Mental Health from a Social Perspective


Mental health is a dynamic field that draws on a variety of disciplines to provide unique perspectives. Mental health/illness is viewed as an intrapsychic phenomenon in the prevalent view of "psychiatry" or the medical model. Until recently, the bio-medical model was the prevailing viewpoint in the field of mental health. Few practitioners and mental health specialists have realised the importance of psychosocial rehabilitation as a result of their own experiences. However, compared to biological explanations and remedies, social, cultural, and economic issues receive less attention.

Sociology of Mental Health 

The social causes and effects of mental health and sickness is an emerging field in sociology. Theoretical contributions from Durkheim, Weber, Foucault, and Marx can be related to differing sociological viewpoints on mental health and illness. Disadvantaged socioeconomic status and stress are cited as societal causes of mental illness. The significance of social stress theory has been debated since the 1980s, and it continues to guide numerous sociological studies.

This theory highlights that mental health issues are produced by social stress, which is based on social statuses and previous life events, as well as vulnerability to stress, which is a limited ability to deal due to low levels of social support, self-esteem, or mastery. It is well accepted that mental illness is not evenly distributed throughout society, but occurs more frequently in socially disadvantaged populations.

Social models look at how mental discomfort might be seen as a reaction to stressful life events. Poverty, loss, prejudice, injustice, abuse, or being subjected to repressive demands imposed by strong individuals are all stressful experiences. Typically, a person's powerlessness and lack of personal and social support make problems difficult to overcome. As a result, sociological explanations for the occurrence of mental illness tend to emphasise causative elements that are a result of one's social status.

Thenanomie theory is Durkheim's contribution to the sociological theory of mental health. Egoistic, altruistic, anomic, and fatalistic suicides are the four types of suicides identified by Durkheim. He employs two independent variables, social integration and social regulation, to describe these types and their causes. He proposed the existence of four types of suicides based on different levels of social integration and collective governance.

Though Durkheim's theory does not define the term "social integration," it indicates that a society or group is integrated to the extent that its members have a "collective conscience," which refers to the beliefs and sentiments shared by the average member. In general, it is associated with a desired state of society, one that is well-ordered and characterised by positive and mutually reinforcing ties (Cresswell 1972: 139). It reveals the strength of individuals' bonds to the organisation to which they belong when stated explicitly. The limitations put by society on human needs and aspirations are referred to as social regulation.

 Let's take the case of a farmer who commits suicide. Farmers commit suicide for two reasons: the first is disappointment and despair caused by the disparity between achievements and aspirations resulting from rapid economic growth and the spread of neoliberalism; the second is isolation caused by weak ties with family, neighbourhood, and community as a result of individualisation of agriculture and the decline of the traditional social order.

The former is caused by a lack of social regulation (anomie), whereas the latter is caused by a lack of integration (egoism). It can be deduced that, while agrarian changes reduced farmers' overall levels of success, the disparity between achievement and aspiration is acutely felt by individuals who have lived under egoistic settings. In other words, when normative expectations and moral control increased and community weakened, the individuated and isolated farmers established a high degree of aspirations.

Karl Marx's conflict theory is another sociological theory that deals with mental illness. Marx (1998b) stated in his "Communist Manifesto" that the history of humanity is the history of class struggle (Marx & Engels, 1998b). This is a battle between oppressors and oppressed. The oppressors, the bourgeoisie, are members of the upper class, while the oppressed, the proletariats, are members of the lower class (Marx & Engels, 1998a). The bourgeoisie is made up of those who take advantage of the working class in order to become wealthy. The bourgeoisie and the proletariat have different levels of power as a result of this exploitation.

The bourgeoisie, more accurately, owns the means of production and, as a result, has an economic, political, and social advantage over the proletariat. Sociologists have utilised the difference in status between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat to explain why those with low socioeconomic status have a higher prevalence of mental illness than those with higher SES. Breslau, Staruch, and Mortimer (1982); Eaton and Muntner (1999); Emerson, 2003; Hastings, 2002; Horwitz, 2002; Hudson, 2005; Simon, 2000). The conflict hypothesis has also proved useful in explaining the vulnerability of people in lower-ranking positions compared to those in higher-ranking positions.

Scheff's (1999) labelling theory, which is based on the observation of aberrant actions, is another sociological theory of mental health. The concept of deviation, according to Scheff (1999), is linked to the concept of rules or standards. Society defines accepted and unaccepted norms in general. Individuals who comply with society's rules are rewarded, while those who do not are punished. Individual rulebreakers might be labelled or stigmatised as a means of punishment.

Disability as a social model:

The disability movement's research and agitation have produced perhaps the most far-reaching example of people recovering a holistic perspective of their reality. People objected to the stigmatising reductionism that accompanied the medicalization of their entire identities as'spastic' or 'Down's Syndrome,' for example. Medical diagnosis led into broader social beliefs that framed them as a 'tragedy,' both in terms of their own self-perception and how they would be perceived by others.

Despite possible medical remedies, their inability to be 'normal' was ultimately blamed on their own genetic or biophysical deficiencies: the problem was squarely placed with the individual herself. This way of thinking is turned on its head by the social model of disability (Oliver, 1996). While impairments may be recognised, and medical therapies may be considered as valuable in maximising certain elements of people's potential, the focus is switched to what may make the most difference in terms of people's quality of life, ambitions, and social inclusion chances.

For many patients, the most disabling aspect of their handicap is society attitudes to it, rather than the impairment itself. Disabled persons encounter a variety of stigma, discrimination, and prejudice-related hurdles to full social and economic engagement. Power-laden assumptions may be at the root of discriminatory social attitudes and practises: what is constructed as ‘normal' is assumed to be unproblematic and does not need to be challenged or changed, whereas those who are constructed as (medically) ‘abnormal' are seen as marginal, second-class, and ‘other.'

They may be locked away or segregated in a type of social apartheid so that their sheer existence does not represent a challenge to dominant constructs of ‘normalcy,' or they may be forced to jump through whatever ‘hoops' are judged necessary in order to attain some limited degree of assimilation. This examination and critique may be applied equally successfully – and perhaps even more so – to the lives of persons who are suffering from mental illness.


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