Joanna Moncrieff is an academic psychiatrist who recognises that meaning is lost and marginalised with the medicalisation of distress.

Joanna Moncrieff

People have used psychoactive substances to dull and deaden pain, misery and suffering since time immemorial, but only recently, in the last few decades, have people been persuaded that what they are doing in this situation is rightly thought of as taking a remedy for an underlying disease. The spread of the use of prescription drugs has gone hand in hand with the increasing medicalization of everyday life, and a corresponding loss of the previous relationship that people had with psychoactive substances.

Elizabeth Gaskell’s novel Mary Barton was originally to be named after Mary’s father John Barton, a working class factory hand addicted to opium (1). The novel depicts the unimaginable poverty and exploitation of industrial Manchester that made opium-induced oblivion an appealing escape. Although Gaskell clearly disapproved of John ‘s addiction, the reader is left in no doubt that opium use in 19th century Britain was a symptom of…

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