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An Ambiguous Health Education: The Quantified Self and the Medicalization of the Mental Sphere

TitleAn Ambiguous Health Education: The Quantified Self and the Medicalization of the Mental Sphere
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2016
AuthorsMaturo A, Mori L, Moretti V
Secondary TitleItalian Journal of Sociology of Education
Date Published10/2016
PublisherPadova University Press
Place PublishedPadova, IT
ISSN Number2035-4983
Keywordsapps, Medicalization, mental health, quantification

It is hard to deny that contemporary society is becoming increasingly medicalized. Mental health is likely the most medicalized sphere. The pathologization of emotions is entangled with the rise of a therapeutic culture. This article proposes the hypothesis that apps used to self-track different aspects of mental health and wellbeing represent a peculiar kind of pedagogical tool and a new engine of medicalization. The “quantified self” acts on reality with the conviction that a data-driven life can enhance one’s health status. The mechanisms that foster this attitude are gamification and quantification – two central features of mental health apps. We seek to demonstrate this through a content analysis of six of the most downloaded mental health apps focused on two different kinds of texts: the description provided by the app itself and the reviews written by its users. Our investigation reveals that these types of apps are giving rise to an idea of the subject which is separated from social factors. This de-policitization of health brought about by the apps strengthens the neoliberal idea of health as an individual responsibility, marginalizing any discourse on social justice. Therefore, this kind of health education appears at best ambiguous, if not controversial.