How has sociology enhanced our understanding of Mental Illness?

Sociology has had many effects on medicine over recent years. Medicine historically was seen as being down to scientific knowledge and that illness was caused by certain bodily problems. In regards to mental health, for many years it was treated as illness that was due to personality of the individual. Sociology helped to show that mental illness is not down to the individual’s mental state entirely but can be affected by the social surroundings. On this basis it ruled out, many of the traditional views that up until than had been based around the biomedical model. Sociology has also enabled us to look into the reasons why mental illness occurs and means available for the treatment of the illness. This essay will look at theses three areas and try and show in what way sociology has given a better understanding of them today.

Doctors have drawn up the Bio-medical model and it is the model that all western medicine is based on. The five assumptions that it centres around have in recent time been subject to much scepticism and criticism. It is clear to most sociologists that the model is not representative of all modern illness and therefore it lacks and that it is a very narrow approach to all kinds of illness be it physical or mental.

The model fails to take into account much of what surrounds mental health problems. By using the model to categorise all health issues it means that mental health has to be put under one of the five assumptions and is therefore treated accordingly. It fails to take into account what it is that might cause mental deterioration. Also much of the model is based on old stereotypical ideal, which have come under scrutiny from feminist who argue that the model takes away much of the traditional roles particularly in childbirth which was taken in as a medical condition thus changing the way in which undertaken. By using the basis of the bio-model many mental illness have been placed under the umbrella of a clinical illness and so therefore enabling them to be treated under a medial condition. As Tyrer and Steinberg say ‘ in a model making era there can be a risk to identify clinical entities prematurely and this may lead a person into difficulties’ . This is the case with the bio-medical when it comes to mental illness. The bio-medical model scientific basis can claim superiority over alternative forms of healing. Because of the scientific basis of the model it can push out other traditional or modern form of treatment. The can relate directly to they way in which the patient is treated in regard to their illness. If the person is treated for a mental illness that a doctor has diagnosed according to the symptoms and treats using drugs and as a mental illness then they are using the medical model. If the doctor looks a t the surroundings of the individual and tries to see what has caused this mental imbalance then that is a total different approach. This is what sociology has done to show what the inadequacies are caused by the bio-medical model. It has looked beyond the lines with which diagnosis reached and looked for other symptoms in a persons life that could have caused the problem ‘as the bulk of ‘mental illness’ has no proven bodily cause.’ So by saying that there is no biological explanation for many mental illnesses then it does not seem that should be treated as if they fitted into the model.
Over history mental illness has been stereotyped to mean certain things. Going along way back it was said to have been a singe of the devil and other supernatural possessions and was stigmatised against due to this. Only until fairly recently has some of this stigma been taken away. Women have always statistically been more prone to mental related illness. This gendered view was seen due to people believing that women were weaker than men. In Freud’s study in 1885 on psychoanalysis in Paris this is clear. He believed that this only affected women so all his research was done using female patients and so the results were entirely one sided. Sociology has opened up a new side into the study of the causes of mental illness. It has looked into the social reasons behind it. There are many social reasons why someone might suffer from mental illnesses. People now recognise that it can be caused through the direct result of other actions such as child abuse, divorce, motherhood and financial stress. All these circumstances and more can result in the mental illness of some kind. Economic pressures are a common cause of several illnesses namely schizophrenia that had much higher occurrences in poorer areas, this study was done in Chicago in the 1930’s. There are several reasons for illness being more common in poorer areas, one being the ‘drift’ affect which is loss of earning through poor health which results in the health deterioration more as there is no financial support. And those in higher have a better standard of living so are less likely to be faced with the same kind of social stress. Pilgrim and Rogers say that there is definite correlation between the two ‘it can be demonstrated unequivocally that social stress is correlated with social class.’ This is related to Marist critique of the bio-medical model as it a direct consequence of capitalism that a class in more susceptible to contract illness through a direct result of their economic status. Also they think that the medical profession is run by the educated upper class whose interest it is to keep the lower classes happy as they make up the workforce needed for the growth of the economy.
Sociology has helped change many of the ideas surrounding the treatment and the cure of the problem of mental illness. Prevention is better then cure so it more worthwhile for health agencies to try and prevent the increase in the number of people who suffer. This is very hard in the case of mental illness as is it often near impossible to predict in a person. Social welfare in areas of poverty to give people support when going through problems can try and catch the problem before it develops into a full-grown mental illness. There have been some efforts made by the medical profession to try and prevent illnesses in general including mental health by setting up health promotion clinics around areas that are prone to certain types of illness. Recently we have seen the decrease in the believe that hospitals and technological medicine and the rise in the primary health care due to the medical profession basing much of their finding on technology and the bio-model and also in biographical and holistic medicine. In recent times there has been an increase in the number of patients that have been diagnosed with a mental illness and not the other way round as you might expect with the advances made in medical knowledge. This may not be due to the more cases but the fact that more people are willing to accept that they suffer from a mental illness and will approach their doctor more openly especially in men. So statistically there might not be singe that strategies for cure and prevention don’t show a decrees.
Sociology has played a key role in the development into the study of mental health it clearly shows that there is a problem with the bio-model in regarded to the treatment of mental health and due to it has been phased out over the years no longer be at the forefront of modern medicine when it comes to these problems. It s inadequacy to be flexible to patients that do not fit within its five ‘assumptions’ are the reason for this. Likewise is the causation of the mental illness. Only as recently as two hundred years ago people believed that women had smaller brains than men and it was due to this that were susceptible to contract mental conditions. Women have been particularly affected through history by mental illness due to gendered approach that was made towards medicine in particular this area. This gendered view and the fact that more men are suffering from mental illnesses now than ever shows the shift in these believes. Sociology has helped bring this understanding about that it is caused as much by social surrounding and situation as anything. And finally the strategies that have been used to cure, care and prevent these illnesses are based around these findings so cure is shifting towards the social environment rather than the drugs being given. This makes treatment for ill patients far more relaxing and easer to get through than being put in a institution and left there until they are deemed better by doctors. And without this study into the illnesses by sociologist and other social sciences the medical profession might not have made the step forward in the treatment for mentally ill patients.

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