Culture, Medicine, and Psychiatry

, Volume 41, Issue 3, pp 368–381 | Cite as

Actively Negotiating the Mind–Body Divide: How Clozapine-Treated Schizophrenia Patients Make Health for Themselves

  • Julia E. H. BrownEmail author
  • Simone Dennis
Original Paper


It is well recognised that antipsychotic treatments impact the whole body, not just the target area of the brain. For people with refractory schizophrenia on clozapine, the gold standard antipsychotic treatment in England and Australia, the separation of mental and physical regimes of health is particularly pronounced, resulting in multiple, compartmentalised treatment registers. Clinicians often focus on the mental health aspects of clozapine use, using physical indicators to determine whether treatment can continue. Our observations of 59 participants in England and Australia over 18 months revealed that patients did not observe this hierarchisation of mental treatments and physical outcomes. Patients often actively engaged in the management of their bodily symptoms, leading us to advance the figure of the active, rather than passive, patient. In our paper, we do not take the position that the facility for active management is a special one utilised only by these patients. We seek instead to draw attention to what is currently overlooked as an ordinary capacity to enact some sort of control over life, even under ostensibly confined and confining circumstances. We argue that clozapine-treated schizophrenia patients utilise the clinical dichotomy between mental and physical domains of health to rework what health means to them. This permits patients to actively manage their own phenomenological ‘life projects’ (Rapport, I am Dynamite: an Alternative Anthropology of Power, Routledge, London 2003), and forces us to reconsider the notion of clinical giveness of what health means. This making of one’s own meanings of health may be critical to the maintenance of a sense of self.


The active patient’ Clozapine Health Schizophrenia Medical ethnography 



The first author thanks her research participants and Dr Emilio Fernandez-Egea (University of Cambridge) for providing additional supervisory support.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

While not directly funding this study, Ms. Brown is supported by the Australian Postgraduate Award (J.B., APA 1183a/2010). However, Ms. Brown and A/Professor Dennis declare no conflicts of interest.

Ethical standards

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Informed consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of AnthropologyAustralian National UniversityCanberraAustralia

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