The social construction of mental illness Key Words * Career: The gradual change in people as a response to a label e. g. mental patient. * Learned Helplessness: learning how to be dependent. * Life-course model: suggests that the accumulation of social events experienced over a whole lifetime, not just individual important events, influence people and their mental state. * Presenting culture: a term used by Goffman to refer to how people like to portray themselves to others. * Schizophrenia: a form of mental illness where people are unable to distinguish their own feelings and perceptions from reality. Self-Fulfilling prophecy: predictions about the behaviour of social groups that come true as a result of positive or negative labelling. * Social Capital: refers to a network of social contacts. * Social constructionism: the approach which suggests that mental illness exists because people believe that it does. * Social realism: a sociological approach which suggests that mental illness does really exist. Summary Mental illness is the less fortunate twin to physical illness. The NHS is not funding enough support for mental health patients and the attention paid to it is minimal.
Mental health is a major problem in society with one in seven people claiming to have had mental health problems at some point in their lives. Social Trends 2007 (Self and Zealey 2007) said that about one in six British people aged 16 to 74 reported experiencing a neurotic disorder in the seven days before a national survey on mental health. When looking at which group is most likely to suffer from high rates of mental illness, the poorest and most excluded are majorly overrepresented. Defining mental illness Social Realism: A general term used to describe the approaches of sociologists who accept that there are distinctive sets of abnormal behaviour that cause distress to individuals and those around them. * Pilgrim and Rogers (1999) accept that, at different times and in different cultures, there are variations in what is considered as mental illness. * Although mental illness may have different names and sometimes not be recognized, it does actually exist as a real condition. * Similar to the bio-medical approach which believes that symptoms can be scientifically diagnosed and categorized.
They see treatment as allopathic (cure orientated through the use of drugs, shock treatment and surgery etc. * They recommend that sufferers be isolated from wider society. Social constructionism: * Have been very influential in sociological approaches to mental illness and start from the argument that what is considered as normal varies over time and from society to society. * Greater extremes of behaviour have been seen as normal in some societies and symptoms of madness in others. Labelling perspective: Labelling theory examines how the labelling of mental illness occurs in the first place and what effects it has on those who are labelled. * Thomas Szasz (1973) argues that the label ‘mental illness’ is simply a convenient way to deal with behaviour that people find disruptive. He is particularly critical of psychiatrists for diagnosing children with ADHD and calling it a disease. He says that giving a child a drug for a mythical disease is a form of physical child abuse because the child has no say in the matter. Labelling theory therefore rests firmly upon a social constructionist definition of mental illness. The effects of labelling * Scheff (1966) said that whether someone becomes labelled or not is determined by the benefits those others might gain by labelling the person ‘mentally ill’. So, those who become a nuisance are far more likely to become diagnosed as mentally ill as someone who causes no problems. * Once labelled, there are a number of negative consequences for the person because it is then assumed that all their behaviour is evidence of their mental state. Erving Goffman (1961) followed the careers of people who were genuinely defined as being mentally ill. He suggested that once in an institution people are stripped of their presenting culture. Criticisms of the labelling perspective * Gove (1982) suggests that the vast majority of people who receive treatment for mental illness actually have serious problems before they are treated so the argument that the labels cause the problems is wrong. It may explain the responses of others to the mentally ill, but cannot explain the causes of the illness.
Foucault’s perspective on mental illness: * He explains the growth in the concept of mental illness by placing it in the context if the changing ways of thinking and acting which developed in the early 18th century. * During the enlightenment more traditional ways of thinking were gradually replaced by more rational and disciplined ways of thinking. He argues that as rationality developed into the normal way of thinking, irrationality became to be perceived as deviant. * Having mad people in asylums isolated mad people away from the majority of the population.
They symbolized the fact that madness or irrationality was marked out as behaviour that is no longer acceptable. Structuralist perspectives on mental illness: * Virde (1977) explained the fact that some ethnic minorities are more likely to develop mental health problems by arguing that the sorts of pressures and stresses that can cause people to develop mental illness are more often experienced by people in an ethnic minority. * Nazroo is critical of this approach. He points out that people of the Bangladeshi origin who are victims of racism have lower levels of mental illness than the general population.
He concludes that mental illness cannot just be caused by racism and deprivation. * Brown et al (1995) explained that women are more likely to lead stressful lives because they have the dial burden and triple shift. * Labelling theorists (Chelser 1972), say that women are more likely to be seen as mentally ill because the defining of illness is mainly done by males. * Link and Phelan (1995) reviewed all the evidence and concluded that research pointed out a relationship between low levels of deprivation and mental illness.
Social capital (Putnam 2000) argued that people who have extensive and strong levels of social networks are more likely to be ‘happier’ than those who don’t. Check Your Understanding: 1) The two sociological approaches to explaining mental illness are social realist and social constructionist. 2) Social realist bases itself on the idea that there are distinctive sets of abnormal behaviour that should be treated; they are very similar to the bio-medical approach.
Social constructionist believes that definitions of mental illness can vary over time and in different cultures. 3) Labelling helps us understand that some people may live up to the label they have been given and can strip mental health patients of any self-dignity as they have no say in what happens to them as they have been given the label of someone who is mad. 4) A structural explanation is closely tied to the social realist definition of mental illness; they accept the reality of mental illness and set out to discover what social factors help cause them. ) Busfield says that it is true that some groups are more likely to find their behaviour defined as mental illness, compared to the behaviour of other groups however al of those groups experience higher levels of stress so mental illness would be higher. 6) They are more likely to show cultural characterises that are not seen as normal in a wider society. 7) They use the idea that women have more responsibilities than men and that the defining of mental illness tends to be dominated by male health professionals.
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