Nikolas Rose: What is Mental Illness Today? Five Hard Questions

Professor Rose is one of our leading contemporary social scientists. Currently he is Professor of Sociology and Head of the Department of Social Science, Health and Medicine at King’s College, London. In the talk, Professor Rose characterises the ‘territory’ of mental illness today by posing five hard questions that seem to represent genuine empirical, conceptual, professional and ethical dilemmas.

The questions are:

  1. Is there an ‘epidemic’ of mental disorder?
  2. Does the path to understanding mental disorder lie through the brain?
  3. What is the role of diagnosis and of diagnostic manuals?
  4. Should we seek early identification of those at risk of future mental pathology?
  5. What is the place of patients, users, survivors, consumers in the mental health system?

Is there really an ‘epidemic’ of mental disorder? Or are psychiatrists simply too willing to diagnose and, if so, why? Rose cautions against construing this as simple psychiatric imperialism. Instead we need to look at what he calls the ‘new engines of psychiatrization‘ which are driving these increasing figures. What are the implications of incorporating all ‘mental illnesses’ into the category of ‘brain disorders’? If so many have ‘abnormal’ brains then what does ‘normality’ actually mean?

I’m always amazed by how much ground Nikolas Rose is able to cover during one lecture. There a list of his lectures on his (new?) website, many of which are available to watch online.


Categories: Rethinking The World

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