Debate: The Medicalization of Childhood Psychiatric Illness


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Medicalization is the process by which human problems or experiences become defined as medical problems with medical solutions. The goal of this in-class activity is to enable students to apply and evaluate a contemporary example of medicalization to better understand the driving forces and social implications of medicalization. The medicalization of psychiatric conditions in childhood, such as ADHD, bipolar disorder, and depression, has been a controversial issue given the sharp increase in medication use among children and the potential lasting impacts that this medication use has on individual outcomes, and is thus a fitting topic for in-class debate. This collaborative group activity engages all students in the class, encourages “big picture” thinking of the process of medicalization, and also incorporates core sociological themes related to medicalization.


Resource Type(s):
Class Activity 
Kristen M. Schorpp, Roanoke College 
Date Published:
Subject Area:
Medical Sociology 
Class Level:
Class Size:

Usage Notes:

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Time Required: 60 minutes for video (preferred in-class but can be assigned to watch at home); 60 minutes for debate Materials: Debate worksheet Video: Frontline’s “Medicating Kids” Paper slips for voting (Optional) Grading rubric Preparation: Prior to class, have students read at least one seminal piece on medicalization, such as Peter Conrad’s “Medicalization and Social Control” or “The Shifting...

Learning Goals and Assessments:

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Goal 1:
Apply the concept of medicalization to a contemporary social issue.
Assessment 1:
Students will apply the concept of medicalization to ADHD medication use among children by taking notes during the video and engaging in a class debate.
Goal 2:
Identify the various institutional driving forces of medicalization.
Assessment 2:
During class debate, students are expected to apply how institutions of education, medicine, government, and family are related to the medicalization of childhood mental illness.
Goal 3:
Critically evaluate the social implications of medicalization.
Assessment 3:
During class debate, students are expected to incorporate implications of medicalization of childhood psychiatric disorders on affected children and families into argument.

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schorpp_TRAILS_medicalization activity.docx