A Pill for the Ill? Depression, Medicalization and Public Health

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis (compilation)

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Mental disorders, especially depression, have been increasingly described as a growing burden to global public health. Critics argue, however, that the use of mental health surveys, underlying these descriptions, tends to overestimate the prevalence of mental disorders by not distinguishing everyday experiences of distress from pathological conditions. This medicalization of public health is believed to narrow the focus of public health practices.
The aim of this thesis is twofold. The first objective is to describe and analyze experiences with antidepressant treatment for depression as expressed in adverse drug reaction (ADR) reports from patients, i.e. “consumers reports.” A second goal is to conduct a theoretical discussion, by looking at broad societal changes, and analyzing the consequences of mental ill health as a significant public health problem. Special attention will be given to medicalization.
Reports of suspected adverse reactions regarding antidepressant mediations were submitted from 2002 to 2009 to an open Internet-based reporting system in Sweden. These were analyzed according to common psychiatric reactions and narrative experiences. Furthermore, a literature overview in a broad and general sense was performed to underpin a theoretical discussion on health, public health, mental ill health and medicalization.
The main findings of this thesis were that patients reporting to an open Internet-based system in Sweden seemed, to a large extent, to experience psychiatric ADR symptoms of mental disturbances (sometimes severe), which affected them in many different ways, especially during discontinuation. These reports also suggested a negative doctor-patient interaction from the patient’s perspective. Risks leading to increased medicalization as a result of overdiagnoses of depression were found. Pharmaceuticalization resulting from overprescribed antidepressants was also deemed problematic. According to a theoretical discussion on public health and medicalization, increased medicalization as a result of excessive diagnosing risks individualizing mental problems and may divert the focus from the social and political context of public health.
According to patient reports, there seems to be a potential problem as to how patients are diagnosed with depression and prescribed antidepressant medication in the medical encounter. Increased drug treatment risks lead to increased health care costs and potential harm from adverse drug reactions. Overdiagnosis and overtreatment may in turn lead to diminished trust in the health system. If depression is going to be viewed as a growing public health problem, it, therefore, calls for a distinction between ill health problems that are medical and those that are not. Arguments for increased medication must be related to a possible danger of medicalizing social problems and life crises.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Meeuwisse, Anna, Supervisor
  • Östergren, Per-Olof, Supervisor
  • Svensson, Tommy, Supervisor, External person
Award date2014 Mar 10
ISBN (Print)978-91-87651-50-2
Publication statusPublished - 2014 Mar

Bibliographical note

Defence details

Date: 2014-03-10
Time: 13:00
Place: Lilla Aulan, MFC, Jan Waldenströms gata 5, Skånes universitetssjukhus, Malmö

External reviewer(s)

Name: Lindqvist, Rafael
Title: [unknown]
Affiliation: Uppsala University


Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • Public Health, Global Health, Social Medicine and Epidemiology
  • Sociology

Free keywords

  • Pharmaceuticalization
  • Medicalization
  • Adverse drug reaction
  • Antidepressants
  • Consumer reporting
  • Depression
  • Medical encounter
  • Mental health
  • Public health


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