Medicalization of Depression, Anxiety, Schizophrenia, ADHD, Childhood Bipolar Disorder and Tantrums: Scientific Breakthrough, or Broad-Based Delusion?

Document Type


Publication Date

Winter 1-2013


Clearly, a number of psychological and behavioral disorders arise within our biology. These include autism, Down’s syndrome, those due to toxin exposure, metabolic and endocrine difficulties, and several others. In contrast, there is minimal research evidence to support biological origins of the vast number of common disorders such as depression, anxiety disorders, schizophrenia or child problems such as conduct disorders, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), childhood bipolar disorder, oppositional behaviors or tantrums. These disorders have been medicalized when, in the absence of supportive research evidence, they are said to be caused by genetic defects, chemical imbalances or other biological phenomena. The roots of contemporary medicalization in the U.S. are traced to two primary factors – psychiatry’s efforts to re-gain lost status, and profit motive in the pharmaceutical industry. Given that both psychiatry and the drug industry are global enterprises, medicalization threatens to escape the boundaries of the U.S. and spread to other nations. There are a number of unfortunate by-products of medicalization including patients’ feelings that there is less hope for improvement and increased community prejudice, when disorders are thought to be rooted in biology. Another by-product is that validated behavioral treatments may be overlooked, as drugs with unfortunate side effects become the treatment of choice. Research in support of biological causation is discussed and found to be relatively weak. Efforts at pushback against medicalization are discussed.


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