Negotiating the neurochemical self: Anti-depressant consumption in women's recovery from depression

Simone Fullagar

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

55 Citations (SciVal)


Anti-depressant treatment can be viewed as an exercise of biopower that is articulated through policies and practices aimed at the reduction of depression, population healthcare costs and effects on labour force productivity. Drawing upon a feminist governmentality perspective, this article examines the discourses that shaped women's experiences of anti-depressant medication in an Australian qualitative study on recovery from depression. The majority of women had been prescribed anti-depressants to treat a chemical imbalance in the brain, manage symptoms and restore normal functioning. One-third of participants identified anti-depressants as helpful in their recovery, while two-thirds were either highly ambivalent about, or critical of, medication as a solution to depression. Thirty-one women who identified the 'positive' benefits of anti-depressants actively constituted themselves as biomedical consumers seeking to redress a chemical imbalance. The problem of depression, the emergence of molecular science and the push for pharmacological solutions are contributing to the discursive formation of new subject positions ĝ€" such as the neurochemically deficient self. Three themes were identified in relation to medication use, namely restoring normality, signifying recovery success and control/uncertainty. Anti-depressant medication offered women a normalized pathway to successful recovery that stood in stark contrast to the biologically deficient and morally failing self. These women's stories importantly reveal the gender relations and paradoxes arising from biopolitical technologies that shape selfhood for women in advanced liberal societies.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)389-406
Number of pages18
JournalHealth: An Interdisciplinary Journal for the Social Study of Health, Illness and Medicine
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2009


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