The following is an interview conducted by Archbridge Vice President of Research and Director of the Human Flourishing Lab Clay Routledge with Lucy Foulkes, an academic psychologist at the University of Oxford. We discuss her research on the possible negative consequences of increased public mental health awareness.
Clay Routledge: In recent years, we have seen a proliferation of mental health awareness campaigns. Although these campaigns have helped remove the stigma surrounding mental illness, you have proposed that they may also have some unintended consequences. Can you talk a little bit about your proposal and evidence that supports it?
Lucy Foulkes: I’m concerned that these campaigns have led to a tendency to use psychiatric language too readily, that we are now over-pathologizing common emotional experiences. This is unhelpful for a number of reasons. It makes those emotional experiences more frightening, because it adds the additional burden of the person believing there’s something wrong with them, or that they have a mental disorder, when perhaps they don’t. But there are also unintended consequences for people who are most seriously unwell. There is no language left for them to describe their experiences, and they continue to feel unseen and unheard. But they were the people that these campaigns were designed to help.