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Biomedical Model Of Mental Illness Increases Discrimination

If we have a diagnosable mental illness, do you think that others are more likely to discriminate against us if they believe our illness is due to genes/brain chemical inbalances (as the biomedical model of mental illness purports) or if they believe it is due to our childhood adverse experiences and stressful environment?

well, proponents of the biomedical model of mental like to put forward the view that we will experience less discrimination and prejudice in the former case. However, skeptics point out that those involved with treating people according to the biomedical model defend it because they have a vested interest in it. And this vested interest is, of course, no more obvious than in the drug companies which produce the drugs to treat mental illness, a business generating billions of dollars annually.

The argument this camp tends to put forward with most frequency is that if our mental illnesses are biological in origin we cannot be blamed for them (any more than we could be blamed for, say, being born congenitally blind). Whilst this is true, it doesn’t, of course, follow that our mental illness is biologically based. And, in any event, neither are we to blame if our mental illness stems from our childhood experiences and stressful life events. But what does the research say about all this?

One study involved 3 groups of young people being shown a video of a young man (who was, in fact, an actor) talking about hearing voices in his head and a belief that others were out to get him followed by a doctor explaining the origins of the symptoms. Each group viewed a different version of the doctor’s explanation.

The first group was shown the version in which the doctor says the person in the video was suffering from schizophrenia.

The second group was shown a version in which the doctor explained the person’s symptoms were caused by a combination of biological and environmental factors.

The third group was told the symptoms were a response to trauma the person had suffered in life.

It was found that those in group one (who had been given a biomedical explanation of the person’s symptoms (i.e. schizophrenia/brain disease) were significantly more likely to perceive the young person in the video as ‘dangerous’ and ‘unpredictable’ than those in groups 2 and 3. This may be that the biomedical model’s explanation of schizophrenia might imply to the laymen that the person displaying schizophrenic symptoms has some kind of intrinsic, irreversible brain disease and/or wayward genetic makeup that are irreversible and that this somehow makes the individual’s condition more sinister than had it come about largely as a result of traumatic life events. Also, it might be that those who suffer mental symptoms due to trauma are easier to relate to whereas those who are considered to have a diseased brain (as described by the biomedical model) are seen as ‘other’ and, therefore, as more of a danger and a threat.

In fact, there now exists a large and growing body of literature to suggest that schizophrenia is indeed strongly associated with a traumatic childhood. Unfortunately, however, there are still psychiatrists who are resistant to moving away from the biomedical model’ to explain this, and many other psychological problems rooted in trauma, potentially devastating psychological condition.