All the neuroscience talk in psychiatry has fed a widespread assumption that people look to medication and speak of their suffering in terms of neurobiology because they have been schooled in scientific knowledge. The interviews show this way of conceiving the relationship between professional and popular understanding to be deeply mistaken. While people use medical concepts, they generally do not learn this language from their doctor. They variously encounter it in other parts of the healthscape, especially popular media, direct-to-consumer drug advertising, and everyday social interactions with confidants, whether family members or friends. Although people often find a diagnosis a persuasive explanation because it confers a reality on their experience and legitimates the use of medication, they also have their own view of what the diagnosis means, what a mental disorder is, what medication does and doesn’t do, and so on. What the biomedical ideas mean and what makes them compelling to (some) people is not predetermined. They are not like a template that is simply laid over personal experience. In the interpretive struggle of a predicament, these ideas are appropriated at an “impression point” under a meaning linked to the person’s specific experience and aspirations.
Keywords: neuroscience, direct to consumer advertising, impression point, mental disorder, diagnosis, popular media, confidant