The pathologization of our lives (About)

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In this article, we will talk about a controversial topic, namely the pathologization of our lives.

Many people believe that there is a downside to the development and evolution of medicine. Is that so?

What is pathologization?

More and more aspects of people’s social or biological existence have become areas of medical intervention, by including them in the pathological sphere or defining them in medical terms.

Whether it’s pregnancy and childbirth, hair loss, ageing or weight control, death and sun exposure, these are all phenomena that require the advice and supervision of a doctor. 

Common diseases today – such as attention deficit hyperkinetic disorder, fetal alcohol syndrome, anorexia, chronic fatigue syndrome, osteoporosis and fibromyalgia, alcohol dependence, gambling or premenstrual syndrome – were not known 40 years ago.

Other morbid situations, such as shyness or social phobia, were once considered character traits.

Young and seemingly healthy people are invited to periodically check their health: the “Junior” package offers for children from 2 to 18 years, the measurement of calcium, alkaline phosphatase and a copro parasitological examination. 

For those who want to have the “new medicine” and exuberant health, the analysis of neurotransmitters, telomeres and advanced assessment of oxidative stress is recommended.

Most aspects of existence have become the subject of expert recommendations.

The pathologization of our lives (About)

We can remark quite easily, without researching, the relevance of the diagnoses or questioning the suffering of those affected, that people who do not fall into any therapeutic category become rare and that the fantastic scenario of the doctor

C. K. Meadov (1), who described the discovery of the last healthy man somewhere near Kansas, in the person of a 53-year-old algebra teacher, becomes plausible. 

For many people, the expansion of medicine is a sign of progress, and in this sense, reducing infant mortality and increasing life expectancy are arguments.

However, the question of the boundary between normal and pathological remains valid, all the more so as scientific independence is threatened by financial interests. 

There is a lot of money to be made from the metamorphosis of people into patients and the transformation of health into an object of consumption.

Thus, medical inflation has become a source of fear, of obsessive concern for one’s own health, as well as participating in the weakening of ties between people, as long as any suffering must be cared for by an expert, where often the family and friends had the main role.

Like any other remedy, excess medicine and pathologization can be harmful.

The pathologization of our lives (About)

The consequences of pathologization

There are other consequences of the pathologization of life.

Since the 1980s, in the West, in the name of health promotion, there has been a significant increase in state intervention in the privacy of the citizens, at a time when the same state has gradually abandoned its social and economic functions. 

“Many serious health problems are caused by personal choices, by the unhealthy lifestyle that people have chosen,” said David Cameron. “We need to promote responsible behaviour and encourage citizens to make the right choices in terms of food, drink and leisure,” he added. In short, you are sick because you lived a messy life and accumulated risk factors.

Many people believe that if they are not well, it is their fault and that their lifestyle has pushed them towards illness, not that their condition can be a healthy reaction or a refusal to adapt to an environment where living conditions are difficult or unbearable.

Guilt policies lead to remediation programs. The new code of good behaviour, if you want optimal health, requires, above all, safety. “Safety” is the new watchword. “Do not neglect the danger of sexually transmitted diseases! Be safe!

Excess, debauchery leads to disease: once the link between morale and health is built, lifestyle control under the threat of disease becomes a mechanism for disciplining society in the name of medical prevention. 

Social control over the individual is achieved not only through ideology but also through his body.

The direct consequence of the pathologization of life is the strict regularization of behaviours.

As Gilles Deleuze put it: a “control society“, populated by “potential patients” and “subjects at risk“.

The pathologization of our lives

In Aldous Huxley’s “Most Beautiful World,” everyone consumes “soma,” the medicine of individual happiness and group cohesion. Society is super organized and super controlled. The motto of the World State is “Community, Identity, Stability“. 

The five castes of society – alpha, beta, gamma, delta and epsilon – are the result of chemical treatments to which embryos have been subjected.

The consumption of “soma”, the perfect drug of happiness, assures society, organized on the principle of perfect conformity, the absence of surprises.

And the contemporary individual consumes the “pills of happiness.” If Ritalin is the pill for teenagers, Prozac is the pill for adults.

We treat teenagers with too much energy, adults with fatigue. We have pills of happiness for every age.

But in the meantime, excessive pill use has become the third leading cause of death after heart disease and cancer.

The pathologization of our lives (About)

Undoubtedly, the progress of the medical sciences has allowed birth assistance, early detection of diseases, their treatment and cure, the improvement of anaesthesia and surgery techniques, the treatment of pain and palliative care when death becomes imminent. 

Everyone has medical episodes in their lives. And if you don’t die young, in old age you get tired faster, you recover harder and you consume more medicines.

We are not talking about pathologization here.

Writer Susan Sontag says the disease is the dark side of life. All those who are born have dual citizenship: in the kingdom of the healthy and in the kingdom of the sick.

If we all want to use only our best passport, sooner or later, we are each obliged to become residents of the kingdom of the sick. We are not talking about the kingdom of the sick here either.

The pathologization of life refers to the collective mentality through which today’s society redefines its happiness and misery in medical terms.

Paradoxically, the health system becomes a mechanism of pathologization.

As the French philosopher Michel Foucault says, medicine is imposed on the individual today, sick or not, as an act of authority. 

The paradox

We are sick because society tells us we are sick. Let’s talk about this paradox. 

The collective feeling is that we have all become hypochondriacs. Voluntarily, we are part of the pathologization chain.

We are stressed, exhausted, insomniac, we resort to pills that calm us, energize us and anaesthetize us. 

Captive to the mentality that any problem can be treated medically, we go to the pharmacy like an open bar, where we serve what we like.

We consume pills and diagnoses and we consume the stress of pathologization.

The pathologization of life is, above all, linked to the expansion of the pharmaceutical market and the pressure of the pharmaceutical industry.

Some investigations highlight the dangerous links between medicine and the pharmaceutical industry in terms of “deadly remedies” and “organized crime”. 

There are specialists in the pharmaceutical lobby, who intervene in addition to academics from the faculties of medicine and pharmacy, key figures in the medical field. 

There is also the profession of the product manager: the drug company delegates a specialist in industrial and commercial espionage to monitor the commercial performance of a drug of the company in relation to competing products.

These surveys tell us that the main goal of the pharmaceutical industry is to expand its customer base and maximize profits.

The way it works is like a medical “business”. 

The pathologization of our lives (About)

A closing word

For many people, the expansion of medicine is a sign of progress, and in this sense, reducing infant mortality and increasing life expectancy are arguments.

However, the question of the boundary between normal and pathological remains valid, all the more so as scientific independence is threatened by financial interests. 

If yesterday’s doctor knew his patient well, today’s doctor does not know the patient but recommends more and more sophisticated and alienating tests.

And after diagnosis, he distributes prescriptions and recommends a lot of drugs.

Dr Louis Pasteur’s motto was: “Medicine sometimes heals, often treats, but always accompanies.” Today, medicine prevents, treats, but no longer accompanies. 

Patients dream of the family doctor, who knew and supervised patients since they were children and knew their vulnerabilities.

In the face of insecurity, the contemporary individual is filled with nostalgia.

If you have any questions, comments or recommendations, please let us know. 

People also want to know for how long does Adderall stay in your system, because this might lead to side effects.

FAQ about pathologization

What does it mean to pathologize something?

To pathologize something means to see something that is otherwise a character trait/hormonal imbalance, as a medical or psychological issue, disease.

What is Overpathologizing?

Overpathologizing means exaggerating symptoms, which may be normal hormonal fluctuations, and treating them as if they were a serious physical or psychological illness.

What does pathology mean In psychology?

In psychology, pathology means researching the causes, the consequences and the treatment of psychological disorders. 

What is pathological behaviour?

Pathological behaviour is when someone behaves in an abnormal, extreme way.

The most simple example is when someone who experiences pathological jealousy becomes very possessive, doubtful and aggressive. 

What is an example of pathology?

An example of pathology is cancer, diabetes, arrhythmia, etc.

In psychology, an example of pathology would be schizophrenia, paranoia, ADHD, autism, etc. 

Further reading

Diagnostic Cultures: A Cultural Approach to the Pathologization of Modern Life, by Svend Brinkmann 

The Pedagogy of Pathologization: Dis/abled Girls of Color in the School-prison Nexus, by Subini Ancy Annamma 

Diagnostic Cultures: A Cultural Approach to the Pathologization of Modern Life (Classical and Contemporary Social Theory), by Svend Brinkmann

Atlantic Childhoods in Global Contexts, by Audra A. Diptee 

Perverse psychology: The pathologization of sexual violence and transgenderism (Concepts for Critical psychology), by Jemma Tosh 

References

1. Meador CK. The last well person. NEJM 1994; 330: 440-1

2.  Moynihan R, Henry D (2006) The Fight against Disease Mongering: Generating Knowledge for Action. PLoS Med 3 (4): e191

3. Too much medicine. BMJ 2002

The pathologization of our lives (About)

Nadejda Romanciuc

Nadejda Romanciuc holds a Bachelor’s degree in psychology and a diploma in Addiction studies. She is part of the Romanian Association of Integrative Psychotherapy as a psychotherapist under supervision. She's practicing online counselling for over two years and is a strong advocate for mental health.