Women and the mental health system : the social impact of the biological model

Thomas, Zoë (2000). Women and the mental health system : the social impact of the biological model. PhD thesis The Open University.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.21954/ou.ro.0000e2e5


British psychiatry is dominated by a biological model of mental illness. To date, there has been considerable research which has focused on the validity of the biological of mental illness. There has been a dearth of research which has aimed to investigate the social impact of the biological model by reference to mental health service users' perspectives. Indeed, overall there has been little research that has aimed to evaluate mental health service provision by means of an analysis of service users' views. In the research that has been carried out previously, the specific issues affecting women service users have often been overlooked. This thesis contends that women service users' experiences must be taken into account in order to effectively analyse the operation of the mental health system. The research is based on interviews with women mental health service users and ex-users. These interviews suggest that many women are dissatisfied with mental health service provision. A recurrent criticism made by the interviewees was that they felt objectified by medical professionals who did not allow them to become involved in decisions relating to their treatment. In some cases the women described how oppressive experiences that were significant in causing their mental health problems were repeated within statutory service provision. The majority of participants criticised the policy of 'care in the community' for failing to address their needs; they opposed the programme of psychiatric hospital closure despite expressing reservations about hospital treatment. In this thesis it is argued that women's dissatisfaction with statutory mental health service provision often stems from the inherently conservative nature of psychiatry. The biological model serves to disempower service users, whilst providing a secure power base for psychiatrists. It also serves to divert attention from oppressive social processes and plays a role in maintaining the social status quo.

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