30 Mental Health and Illness

Harleen Dhillon

Whenever you see the word “stress” used, you have an opportunity to think critically about the social causes and consequences of that phenomenon. Sociology investigates the social causes and consequences of mental health and illnesses within societies. Every person’s mental health is influenced by social factors. This is also known as social stress theory. These might be social hierarchies and identities, such as class, race, gender, and sexuality. Groups who experience poverty and economic insecurity suffer more mental illness and likewise are less able to finance adequate care.  Social institutions also play a major role in influencing our mental health. Some of these social institutions include health care organizations, education, and religion.

The way that a structural functionalist will view mental health and illness is that they believe the core essentials for a well-functioning society rest on good health care as well as effective health care. Without these two being present in our society it is impossible to have a well functioning society. Symbolic interactionists’ view on mental health is that the experiences each individual goes through shapes them into becoming who/how they are. Symbolic interactionists’ main argument implies that people only act how they do in situations because of how they choose to describe that certain situation, which can vary greatly because our minds are each unique.

A conflict perspective focuses on the inequalities in societies and between individuals, which separate them from those in power making decisions in health care. Problems are rooted in capitalism, which creates significant disparities between social classes and people’s access to the health care system. For example, those who experience poverty have adverse health effects but also have less/limited access to quality medical care, which impacts their mental health. Mental illnesses are the same as physical health conditions, and should be treated with the equivalent sensitivity and attention.

Mental health: psychological, emotional, and social wellbeing
Social stress: stress that is caused by one’s surrounding environment including social relationships with others
Social stress theory: idea that individuals who have disadvantaged social statuses have additional stressors, which then results in a higher chance of developing mental illness

Next: Activity Sheet, Mental Health and Illness [DOC]



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Gender in Canada: A Companion Workbook Copyright © 2023 by Harleen Dhillon is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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