Professor of orthopedagogy, Laura Batstra, is actively opposing disorder-thinking and overmedicalization, particularly through her posts on social media. Despite facing challenges, Batstra believes that numerous small actions can eventually lead to significant changes.
"Publishing in scientific journals is nice, but when you share scientific knowledge on LinkedIn, something actually happens," says Professor Batstra. Whether addressing issues in the pharmaceutical industry or researchers claiming ADHD is a brain defect, Batstra makes her voice heard online. With 7,500 LinkedIn followers and hundreds of likes per post, she has a substantial reach.
According to Batstra, in recent years, there has been an excessive focus on disorder-thinking. "If people experience symptoms that are actually part of life, we too quickly assume that something is wrong and that individual medical help is needed. For example, a child who is just a bit hyperactive might be prescribed ADHD medication. Or someone labeled with 'complex grief' because they grieve a deceased loved one for too long. I don't want to deny or trivialize these issues, but I believe we should critically assess whether they belong in psychiatry and if medication is the right approach."
Batstra experienced the quick classification of disorders and prescription of medication when she worked in psychiatry. Dissatisfied with the lack of room to address this within the mental health institution where she worked at that moment, she resigned in 2010 and became a researcher and lecturer at the University of Groningen. Batstra has been a professor for over three years now, focusing on the 'Medicalisation of behavioral, educational, and societal problems,' actively working against (over)medicalization. Influencing the information flow on this topic is a significant and meaningful part of her work. "I frequently consider myself fortunate to be able to do this work."
One way Batstra tries to counter the dominant model of disorder-thinking is by posting on social media. "Even though we are slowly moving in the right direction, it's still a bit like fighting against the odds. There is a large group of professionals who happily work with the medical model and post about it. Those posts are very popular with the general public and receive a lot of likes and attention. My colleagues and I sometimes feel disheartened."
Recently, Batstra came across a post from a researcher advising menopausal women with concentration problems to use certain ADHD medication, even if they don't have an ADHD classification. "When I looked up this researcher, I found out that she had shares in pharmaceutical companies, and these companies had sponsored her research. My counter message got a lot of attention but not as much as the original post."
Despite the challenges, Batstra remains determined. The professor is confident that numerous small actions can eventually lead to significant changes, breaking the pattern of disorder-thinking. "Sociologists have a nice term for it: the micromechanisms of power. This means that many small messages, bits of information, or jabs together form one significant stimulus. If more people speak up, I believe we can really make a difference."
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