Our everyday lives are increasingly intertwined with psychiatry and discussions of mental health. Yet the dominant medical discipline of psychiatry remains surrounded by controversy. Is there an ‘epidemic’ of mental ill health in contemporary societies? Is mental distress really an illness like any other, treatable by drugs? Can psychiatrists differentiate between mental disorders and normal eccentricities, anxieties or even sadness? Should the power of psychiatrists be challenged by the knowledge of those with lived experience of mental ill health? This book, which arises from decades of engagement with the realities of psychiatry and mental distress, tackles such disputes head on through a rigorous analysis of the evidence, dissecting the part that psychiatry has come to play in the lives of so many across the world, arguing that advances in brain science, however exciting, are making little contribution to our understanding or treatment of mental ill health, and challenging the logic behind Western psychiatry’s spread across the globe. It argues that it is imperative for mental health strategies to give a central role to those who have experienced mental distress and to their knowledge of the mental health system. On the basis of compelling recent research on the role of social adversity in producing mental ill health, the book proposes a radically different future for psychiatry, no less evidence-based or rigorous, and indeed far more attuned to the realities of mental health. Ultimately, it argues that as a branch of social medicine that identifies and challenges the social, economic and political determinants of mental ill health, another psychiatry is possible.
Nikolas Rose is Professor of Sociology in the Department of Global Health and Social Medicine at King’s College London. His latest book, Our Psychiatric Future, is now available from Polity.