SOC344 2018 Tut9 – Mon 14.30pm

There has been intense investment in mental health resources and treatments over the last few decades in Australia. This includes the establishment of initiatives such as the Black Dog Institute, the headspace National Youth Mental Health Initiative (a good program, which I helped evaluate), and recently a multi-sector initiative aimed at ‘Creating Mentally health Workplaces’.

Despite these efforts, however, the expenditure on and costs of mental health issues continue to rise, and the prevalence of anxiety issues in our society remains high. Anthony Jorm, at the University of Melbourne, estimates that around 15% of Australians suffer from an anxiety disorder, but many Australians don’t understand these issues, can’t recognise the symptoms, and tend to dismiss them as ‘everyday worries’. This serves both to downplay the severity and impact of anxiety issues on the national psyche, but also – importantly – obscure the social basis to such emotions. A similar story applies to the experience of loneliness. As Adrian Franklin finds, loneliness is endemic in Australia.

There are numerous sociological explanations behind ingrained, or rising, anxiety and loneliness in our society. Certain groups are at greater risk of loneliness than others – older men for example – but sociologists such as Anthony Giddens and Zigmund Bauman point out the atomising affect of late modernity, where human relations become more individualised, and we become less invested in keeping our groups and connections together. And we are not helped by the way we structure our modern lives. Work is increasingly temporary and fractious, sending us off to all sorts of places, to work all sorts of hours, with increasing precarity. Our cities continue to sprawl into suburban ‘exopolises’, lacking natural social centres within which people can connect and socialise. And our media changes, becoming supposedly more ‘social’, but with uncertain consequences in terms of the exact impact it has on our face-to-face interaction.

The exact alchemy of factors that entrench anxiety and loneliness in modern society is unclear. However, the need to examine these factors sociologically is paramount. Do we need more expenditure on mental health services? Or is this just a Band-Aid solution? Do we instead need to examine, recognise, and cost options for making deeper, structural changes to our social, urban and media environments that impact our sense of sociability and security, and our feelings of anxiety, isolation and loneliness?

According to Beyond Blue, it is estimated that in 1 year, 1 million Australian adults will experience depression and 2 million will experience anxiety; that 45% of Australians will experience mental health problem in their lifetime; that; and that 1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men will experience depression.

However, anxiety, depression and sadness are only some of the difficult (or what I would call primary) emotions associated with mental illness. Those who experience it also have to deal with the stigma associated with mental illness, and with a range of secondary emotions associated – disgust, embarrassment, guilt and shame – associated with the experience of stigma. Erving Goffman described stigma as a discrepancy between a virtual and an actual social identity, where a person is “reduced in our minds from a whole and usual person to a tainted, discounted one.” Whether at work, home, school or in public, having to hide one’s condition – or suffer the indignity of being treated as a ‘tainted’ person – only compounds the difficult emotional experience of managing a mental illness.

Kathy Charmaz provides a critical sociological perspective to the problem, in arguing that our society sets up standards of normal health – a ‘core’ of healthy images and spaces – and expects people to either commit to a clear core (be consistently healthy) or accept a marginalized position outside of this (with an internalized, stigmatized, and shameful identity), but not to ‘pretend’ health or ‘exaggerate’ one’s illness, as those with mental illness are often suspect of doing. Gillian Bendelow notes that the great rise in pharmacological treatments over previous decades and that the use of anti-depressants is seen as the more socially conventional and acceptable approach to the ‘treatment’ of mental illness. Evidence of this can be seen in the fact that Australia now ranks second in the world in anti-depressant prescriptions.

Are more anti-depressants the solution? Davey and Chan (2012) challenge their effectiveness, and suggest that they should be increasingly used only in combination with psychotherapeutic approaches. However, this approach still individualises the problem, and does little to look at the social conditions and the stigma that compounds the experience of mental illness. Perhaps its time to move the focus away from the ‘core’ and towards the periphery, and do more to end the stigma associated with mental illness, anxiety and depression?

#S344UOW18 #Tut9 #Mon1430

Posted in SOC327 - Emotions Bodies and Society, UOW.

6 Comments on SOC344 2018 Tut9 – Mon 14.30pm

Alannah Talevski said : Guest Report 9 months ago

Despite the rise in mental health issues, stigma continues to be present within todays modern society. As an individual who has suffered and continues to suffer (but not so badly) from panic disorder and anxiety for almost 5 years sometimes I believe educating individuals of the symptoms and reducing the stigma are the only ways to ease an individual's suffering. 5 years ago I had absolutely no understanding of what I was experiencing and neither did my family. I had grandparents tell me I was 'cursed by someone who had the devil in them' and that's why I always felt so sick and didn't want to leave my house. I find that older generations still to this day struggle with understanding mental health, and I believe this is due to lack of education on the matter. My friends, parents and siblings are more understanding of what's going on and are therefore better and more reliable support networks. Educating individuals on the matter will lead to earlier detection and therefore a solution can be implemented before it's too late. In some cases medication is the only way to ease symptoms. Trying other methods before is imperative and medication should be the last resort. It is very difficult to come off even gradually and in combination with other methods such as counselling, so I believe medical treatment should be used only when it's absolutely required and nothing else seems to work. #S344UOW18 #Tut9 #Mon1430

Amy Garrill said : Guest Report 10 months ago

It has been stated that medicalisation is not as effective as it could be, however when used in conjunction with psychotherapy, the effectiveness increases (MJA, Davey and Channen 2016). Therefore, the further increases in expenditure on prescription medication for mental health issues is not the answer to minimising mental health issues. The significant dependence on medication, furthers the notion that mental illness is an individual issue. It acknowledges that the person who is affected by mental health is responsible for straying from the normal healthy body. Due to this individualist approach it is then in turn, treated on an individual level. However, this notion eliminates the role that society plays in the creation of mental illness. The stigma surrounding invisible illnesses created by society, encourages effected individuals to feel a sense of marginalisation, loneliness and rejection, furthering their symptoms (Patulny 2018). I believe that further education can be conducted to reduce the societal stigma. Holmes (2010), suggests that emotions can be seen as social constructions, so if emotions that are associated with mental health can be seen as a result of societal influence, then so too should the expression of mental illness be.

Chelsea Swan said : Guest Report 10 months ago

Stigma attached to mental illness is evident in our society. An individual can lack legitimacy when their condition does not fit clinical knowledge in institutionalised medicine; they can also become marginalised (Charmaz 2008). Those who cannot meet taken for granted norms, (such as being healthy) experience deprivation and degradation (Charmaz 2008). Moreover, Bendelow (2009) emphasises that a biomedical response (prescription drugs to treat depression etc) is a simple solution to a complex problem. Social causes of illnesses, for example, loneliness/lack of a sense of community (which are factors that may cause depression, anxiety etc), need to be acknowledged rather than focusing solely on biomedical responses. Furthermore, I do not believe more expenditure on mental health services is the only option. I believe this should be done in conjunction which making societal changes; such as, the de-stigmatisation of ‘invisible illnesses (Charmaz 2008)’, such as; depression, anxiety, chronic fatigue, etc. More education on these invisible illnesses could be a way to fight stigma. I was never taught about anxiety and depression at school, and the commonality of it. Moreover, at school, and in society, those who suffer with these illnesses were labelled ‘weird’ or ‘dramatic’. Furthermore, Bendelow (2009) articulates, psychiatry and psychiatric treatments receive less funding for research. Thus, I also believe that more research could help educate people on the commonality of invisible illnesses.

Dylan Le said : Guest Report 10 months ago

Being born in a third world country, I have always thought that 'mental health issue' is something related to autism, craziness or asylum, or that was how I was taught. When we think of people who suffer from mental issue, we think of people who live in closed doors (hikkikomori) or people who are behind jail bars like prisoners. So when I suffer from anxiety and depression, it took longer for me to identify my problem. Not only that, it is also an issue that we rarely talk about in my household. It is definitely because of the stigma but also because of the lack of information provided. People need to understand that mental health issue is the same as physical illness, the consequences are the same regardless of what you are suffering from. I personally think that we should educate students and people about the matter and encourage people to speak out. #S344UOW18 #tut9 #Mon1430

Keisha McIntosh said : Guest Report 10 months ago

Mental health is a issue that is close to my heart. At the age of twenty-four I have known four people that have commited suicide in the past few years. Three of these individuals were male and all four, to know them and look at them you would not know that they were affected by depression. These experiences have opened my eyes to the stigma that surrounds mental health. This stigma needs to change as it is killing people. Individuals are too scared to speak up and seek help because they are too afraid of how society will view them. I myself have struggled with anxiety and have felt the shame of seeking professional help, however I also know the benefits that counselling can have. Personally, the use of antidepressants is not something I would encourage as I know it can have a blanket effect and limits the individual's ability to feel emotions. However, I am also able to understand that medication is sometimes a necessary option and as a society we would not deny a cancer patient necessary treatment therefore why do we for an individual that is suffering from a mental health illness? #S344UOW18 #TUT9 #MON1430

Georgia Higgins said : Guest Report 10 months ago

“Mental health is about wellness rather than illness” (Beyond Blue, 2018) – this statement exemplifies that Australian’s needs to move away referring to mental health as ‘everyday worries’ and more towards understanding the prevalent social conditions and stigma attached to their illness. I believe that in order to breakdown the prevalence of mental illness within Australia, it is imperative that we first begin by tackling the stigma attached to it. Whilst better mental illness outcomes surfaced around 2011, it is still consuming the mental and social state of Australians every single day. Reiterating what is stated within Roger’s blog, I believe anti depressants should only be used in combination with psychotherapeutic approaches (Davey and Chan, 2012). Establishing greater effective social networking support groups for individuals suffering with mental illness may assist individuals in comprehending and differentiating between an ‘everyday worry’ and a legitimate, mental health disorder. It is significant that individuals are aware of what is occurring within their social and mental states in order to breakdown the issue and overcome mental health disorders once and for all. #S344UOW18 #TUT9 #MON1430

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