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Book cover: Advances in Medical Sociology

Advances in Medical Sociology

ISSN: 1057-6290
Series editor(s): Brea L. Perry

Subject Area: Sociology and Public Policy

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What epidemic? The social construction of bipolar epidemics


Document Information:
Title:What epidemic? The social construction of bipolar epidemics
Author(s):Kathryn Burrows
Volume:11 Editor(s): Ananya Mukherjea ISBN: 978-1-84855-080-3 eISBN: 978-1-84855-081-0
Citation:Kathryn Burrows (2010), What epidemic? The social construction of bipolar epidemics, in Ananya Mukherjea (ed.) Understanding Emerging Epidemics: Social and Political Approaches (Advances in Medical Sociology, Volume 11), Emerald Group Publishing Limited, pp.243-261
DOI:10.1108/S1057-6290(2010)0000011017 (Permanent URL)
Publisher:Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Article type:Chapter Item
Abstract:

Purpose – This chapter explores the changing definition of bipolar disorder, examining how debates within psychiatry actually construct the definition of mental illness, thereby creating the appearance of an emerging epidemic with increasing prevalence.

Method – I review the recent psychiatric and epidemiological research to reveal that the intellectual and scientific debates that occur in the psychological laboratory and in survey research are in fact falsely increasing the figures that show that an epidemic of bipolar is emerging.

Findings – For centuries, bipolar disorder was equated with severe psychosis and had a prevalence rate between 0.4% and 1.6%. As spectrum and subthreshold conceptions of bipolar disorder become established in official psychiatric diagnostic manuals, however, estimates of the prevalence of bipolar spectrum disorders have risen to almost 25%. I demonstrate that nearly all of this increase is a result of changes in the scientific and intellectual definition of bipolar disorders among psychiatric professionals, and that rates of symptoms are not in fact increasing.

Contribution to field – The arbitrariness of diagnostic thresholds naturally leads researchers to argue for lower thresholds. This allows more individuals who were previously considered psychiatrically normal to be reclassified as psychiatrically disordered. Lowering diagnostic thresholds increases the risk of confusing normal elation or sadness with disordered states, increasing the potential of false-positive diagnoses and the false impression of rising rates of disorder.


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