The focus was on whether certain mental illnesses should be treated as medical conditions

A debate at Wits Medical school has concluded that healthcare providers need to find balancing factors between mental illness and the social factors that contribute towards it.

The debate was hosted by the Wits Students Bioethics Society in partnership with the Wits Debating Union on Wednesday, August 21.

Toinette Bradley, a psychologist from the Careers and Counselling Development Unit, describes mental illnesses as “a wide range of ongoing conditions that affect your thinking patterns, your moods and  your behaviour”.

“Some examples of these include depression, bipolar disorders, schizophrenia and anxiety disorders,” Bradley said.

The house focused on the paradox of mental illness being under-recognised and over-treated.

This was similar to conclusions in an article in the Public Library of Sciences journal. It described over-treatment and over-medicalisation as “fueled by a pharmaceutical industry interested in the broadening of the boundaries of illness”.

“On the other hand exists a profound under-recognition of the suffering and breadth of mental health issues affecting millions of people across geographies,” the article stated.

A BSc chemical engineering student, Priscilla Ndlovu, shared these sentiments on the proposition. She argued that the medicalisation of mental illness has capitalist tendencies of keeping people “sick”.

“The idea of using pills, without removing people from situations that contribute to their behaviour, ultimately gives people the idea that they need pills to remain sane and alive.

“We want a society where doctors are not the first point of reference,” she said.

However, 21-year-old Shannon Wardlaw, from the opposition, added to this and said that removing people from toxic situations does not solve the problem.

“Trauma may cause mental illness, but lack thereof does not treat it,” said the third-year BA politics, philosophy and economics student.

Fourth-year MBBCh medicine student Anam Azhar said this will put more pressure on individuals to solve their own problems.

“Endometriosis, which contributes to period cramps, was not medicalised. This meant that there were lots of women who suffered from pain, thinking this was normal. This is why medicalisation of conditions is necessary,” argued Azhar.

Tsholofelo Moholane, first-year MBBCh Medicine student, said that demedicalisation might not be the best solution in tackling mental illness.

“Medicine has made it this far because it helps people. I don’t think getting rid of it would be beneficial.

“Perhaps we should also start looking at integrated solutions to tackling mental illness, since it’s caused by various factors,” she said.

FEATURED IMAGE: Students listen in on a debate on the demedicalisation of mental illness at Wits Medical School. Photo: Molebogeng Mokoka