Contemporary public perceptions of psychiatry: some problems for mental health professions

Jeremy Dixon, Dirk Richter

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Citations (SciVal)


Social constructionist critiques of psychiatry have primarily focussed on the function of diagnosis for society. Less attention has been paid to the diverse ways that service users and carers have come to construct mental disorder. Social movements led by service users / survivors, have worked to contest biomedical models whilst carer groups have campaigned for a greater emphasis on biomedicine. However, population based research reveals a more complex picture, indicating that whilst public acceptance of biomedicine has grown, the public continue to see mental disorder as being highly influenced by social factors and display a high degree of ambivalence towards psychiatric treatment. Through focussing on debates in psychiatry, social work and nursing in the UK we argue that public perceptions have particular consequences for the mental health professions. Specifically, they impact on the way that professionals can present themselves as holding a specialist knowledge base. Professional mental health workers therefore needs to be transparent about the assumptions and limitations of psychiatric knowledge and base therapeutic decisions around the way in which service users and carers construct mental disorder.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)326-341
Number of pages16
JournalSocial Theory & Health
Issue number4
Early online date12 Dec 2017
Publication statusPublished - 30 Nov 2018


  • Mental Health
  • Organisation of health services
  • Profession and professionalism
  • Theory


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