by Larry Monocello
In this article, Neitzke argues that the higher prevalence of diagnosis of depression in women cross-culturally is the result of the biomedical framework’s removal of a patient from her social surroundings. She argues that this removal obscures the fact that a diagnosis is often made without consideration of the fact that women live in “a patriarchal system of gender as it interacts with a social, political, and economic order…limits or altogether preventing the examination of social and economic mechanisms in the causal pathways of mental disorders” (60). She argues that the DSM-III’s definition of depression mapped to “feminine” behaviors and characteristics, and, circularly, depression became “identified with women, as primarily a disease of women” (62). Statistics, showing that women suffered from depression more often than men, “objectively” legitimated the category. Further, the mechanistic analogies used by biomedicine, and therefore the assumptions biomedical researchers and practitioners come to espouse as reality, served to “bracket-out gender and other social influences” (63), denying them the ability to attribute their “disorder” to anything other than their biology.
One of the many strengths of this article is the author’s attention to ethnographic work on depression. Referencing anthropologists work on depression cross-culturally, she shows that the experience of depression is culturally constructed. She explains how, in some cultures that valorize instead of marginalize the depressed (e.g., Gaines and Farmer’s (1986) work on the Visible Saints of France), outcomes and experience are different. She argues that the biomedical/psychiatric model of depression is disempowering to women for that very reason: the culture around depression is hostile, and yet the culture is not considered in the model, erasing a very real factor from consideration. As a result, she calls for a truly biopsychosocial model of depression to address this flaw.
Importantly, Neitzke notes that her criticism of the biomedical psychiatric model of depression as erasing the consideration of gender can also be extended to considering the erasure of sexuality and race/ethnicity. This made me consider a couple of questions that I would like to leave up for discussion:
Over the course of the semester—aside from our discussion of poverty—we haven’t spent much time discussing the experience of marginalized groups (sexual and racial minorities, women, etc.). Critically considering the topics of past discussions, how do you think that the utilization of a feminist or racially-sensitive lens would affect our interpretations of what we have read thus far?
Is a feminist/racial/queer neuroanthropology necessary? Is it even possible? What would it look like?
Neitzke, Alex B. 2016. "An Illness of Power: Gender and the Social Causes of Depression." Culture Medicine and Psychiatry 40 (1):59-73. doi: 10.1007/s11013-015-9466-3.