Meet-a-Member: Anna Swartz

UnknownAnna K. Swartz is in the final semester of her Master’s degree in the Humanities department at Michigan Technological University, where her advisor is Dr. Syd Johnson. Prior to graduate school, Anna received a BA in anthropology from Wellesley College. Her academic passion centers on the study of mental health. Her research interests are at the intersections of philosophy, discourse analysis, critical disability studies, and cultural studies.

The focus of Anna’s work in neuroethics has been on the brain disease model of mental disorders and how over-reliance on this paradigm might contribute to the stigmatization and marginalization of people with mental illness. She is especially interested in the development of classification systems for mental disorders, with special attention to schizophrenia.

Anna is currently looking at the ways that prevailing neurobiological discourses in psychiatry influence the phenomenology of mental illness. In other words, how do modern understandings of mental illness as brain diseases impact the contextualized and unique lived experience of diagnosed individuals, including how diagnoses intervene upon a patient’s sense of self, and how that self-identity might come to be reconstituted as a result. She is especially interested in the ways that language enters into all aspects of treatment and recovery, including sense of self. In the context of the therapeutic relationship, adopting the dominant, neurobiological lexicon of psychiatry may provide patients with a way to communicate with clinicians without risk of being misunderstood or subjugated, but using a language that is not one’s own may result in a silencing of the patient that may involve feelings of alienation and loss of agency. This problem has broad implications for the recovery and well-being of patients with mental illness; research shows that the brain disease model of mental illness may actually exacerbate stigma and, in some cases, reduce clinician empathy toward patients.

Anna’s other areas of research in neuroethics involve mental health in the carceral system. In the US, there are ten times as many mentally ill persons in jails and prisons than in state psychiatric hospitals. The overflowing corrections system has become a de facto inpatient psychiatric system, but jails and prisons are designed to confine and punish, not rehabilitate. They are not therapeutic spaces and are often responsible for exacerbating illness. Correctional mental healthcare—and the widespread trend toward privatizing these services—is an under-appreciated problem in the field.

Anna plans to begin her doctorate next year at Michigan Tech. Her personal blog, www.annaswartz.com, contains a collection of research and personal writing on mental illness and disability. Twitter: @sansceriph.

 

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