Psychiatrization of, with and by children: Drawing a complex picture

Anna Witeska-Mlynarczyk, Timo Beeker, Sanne te Meerman, China Mills*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

10 Citations (Scopus)


When discussed in the context of diagnosing or medicating children, psychiatrization is usually portrayed as a more or less monolithic top-down process, which, according to some, enables a child’s right to health, while for others is a form of child abuse. This article challenges these conceptualizations in two steps: First, it draws on available literature on psychiatrization (including
its top-down and bottom-up operations, and its ideological and material aspects), and its relationship to various psy-practices, and wider processes of (bio) medicalization, psychologization and reification. Second, using two detailed vignettes from ethnographic research with children and youth in Poland, the article demonstrates that children and youth are not necessarily passive
recipients of psychiatrization as they themselves navigate, appropriate, resist, and transform top-down influences. While one vignette details a child’s more or less open resistance to psychiatrization through their attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder label, the other vignette shows young people embracing and positively identifying with bio and psy-knowledge in relation
to depression. However, both vignettes show how children and youth make psychiatrization meaningful as it shapes their lifeworlds, with them sometimes becoming agents of psychiatrization themselves. Our data illustrate the nuances of psychiatrization of, with and by children, and we draw on this to complexify existing literature and framings of psychiatrization.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)12-25
Number of pages14
JournalGlobal Studies of Childhood
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Mar-2020
Externally publishedYes


  • Psychiatrization
  • Reification

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