Mental Health Care, Diagnosis, and the Medicalization of Social Problems in Ukraine

YANKOVSKYY, Shelly

Publication Date 

2014
17 pp

This paper focuses on cultural issues associated with reforms of the mental health system in Ukraine. Specifically, the paper will explore the adoption of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-10), with its heavy focus on biomedical definitions of health and illness, and the applicability of applying this model cross-culturally. Using first hand ethnographic data with psychiatrists, social workers and advocates, as well as patients or ‘bolnoi’ (bolnoi translates literally as ‘an ill person’) of psychiatric services, I argue that ‘mental illness’ is not always, or solely, biological, but also culturally shaped, and therefore a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to mental health becomes problematic. I follow this argument with a discussion of how social problems more generally come to be redefined in Ukraine as medical in nature, where issues such as gender relations, alcoholism, poverty and environmental disasters are subject to medicalization. Here ‘symptoms of oppression’ or ‘distress’ are diagnosed within a psychiatric framework and become ‘symptoms of illness’, to be treated within the biomedical arena. This redefinition places the responsibility for larger societal issues on the individual and ignores the social and environmental underpinnings of suffering - a dynamic that was also operative in the Soviet system. I argue that the growing popularity of the medicalization of behavior coupled with its relationship with the pharmaceutical industry is thus a moral issue, and one with harmful results.

 

Disability and the Global South, 2014, Vol. 1 No. 2

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