An article on Jezebel discusses a new book called The Protest Psychosis: How Schizophrenia Became a Black Disease. The book argues that while psychiatric advertising in the fifties focused on neurotic or hysterical housewives, in the sixties, the focus of the advertising for many of the same drugs shifted to angry and belligerent black male youth and took on a racial dimension:
The point of the book is that psychiatry reacted to the civil rights movement just as every other part of the establishment–with panic, denial, and sublimation. Society is clearly perfect in 1965, so their rage is not rational. But the rage is present so the system has to process it somehow, so we label it as a mental illness, and medicate it.
I think this point is valid, but it is narrow. In fact, the targeting of women and the elderly reflects a denial of both severe gender inequality and post-traumatic stress of WW1 and WW2 vets.
The idea that psychiatry serves and important function in social control was the thesis of Michel Foucault’s first book, The History of Madness. The book explored how something as subjective and ultimately unknowable as insanity could be constituted as an object of knowledge on and be the target of intervention for a specific type of power: specifically the disciplinary institution of the asylum. Today asylums have given way to psych hospitals and court-ordered therapies where doctors prescribed meds that patients must take.
But because Foucault was gay, bald, and French, American society chose to ignore him. Nonetheless, his ideas are very instructive. If we take this idea–that psychiatry and psych medication in particular are routinely used as a form of social control–and apply it to the preset, who is it that need to be controlled today?