Psychiatry is in essence the diagnosis and treatment of disorders of mental function i.e. abnormalities of thought, perceptions, emotional and purposeful behaviour. Psychiatrists are medical doctors who specialize in this area.
Psychiatry is one of the most controversial medical specialties. There are a number of reasons for this, which the talk addresses. These include:
The validity of “mental illness”. Many psychiatrists argue that mental illnesses can be viewed as diseases like those affecting other parts of the body. Others argue that mental illness are predominantly social rather than medical in origin, and are used for purposes of control. Szasz famously argued that mental illnesses do not exist at all.
We may agree that mental illness is a valid concept, but how widely should this be applied? Has shyness, for instance, become "generalized anxiety disorder". If it has, does this matter? Many new disorders have appeared with new editions of psychiatric classification manuals and some regard this as “medicalizing normality”.
Alongside diagnosis, psychiatric treatments also receive scrutiny. The number of prescriptions of antidepressants in England and Wales has increased in recent years. Does this reflect the better recognition and treatment of mental disorders, or the influence of the pharmaceutical industry over doctors’ prescribing? And do these medications actually work? Should more talking therapies be offered instead?
Dr Stephen Ginn is a consultant psychiatrist working in North London. He specializes in in-patient care of people with severe mental illnesses. He blogs at www.frontierpsychiatrist.co.uk (sadly neglected, but hopefully soon to be resurrected) and tweets at @psychiatrist. He also co-runs the Art of Psychiatry Society (www.artofpsychiatry.co.uk and @artofpsychiatry) which holds meetings to explore the shared space between psychiatry and the creative arts.