SOC344 2018 Tut9 – Shoalhaven

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 #Shoal

Posted in SOC327 - Emotions Bodies and Society, UOW.

3 Comments on SOC344 2018 Tut9 – Shoalhaven

Bree Zammit said : Guest Report 7 months ago

The stigma around anxiety and depression in Australia lies in the misunderstanding of these disorders as fleeting emotions rather than an illness that is quite serious. The lack of awareness of anxiety as a mental illness allows people to not only up hold the stigma already in place toward other individuals, but also not recognise their own anxiety as something to be taken seriously. Personally, I question the anxiety I feel toward social situations and refrain from saying the words I have anxiety. I do not think that I have anxiety but I feel confident in recognising when I feel anxious in situations. Bedelow explains that “illness without clear and demonstrable scientific physiopathology remain at the bottom of the hierarchy” (2009, p.81) One of the main things that I took away from this week’s lecture was the statistic that 45% of Australian think, of anxiety as a weakness of character. In this deep seeded stigma is a reliability on medication on a solution, medication and therapy has become the solution and it individualises mental ill health with no hope for a wider understanding. Bedelow’s historical explanation of medication and metal ill health describes the idea of relying on medication as the “quick fix culture” (2009, p.89) whereas research into the social factors of mental ill health could lead to a long term benefit for people who experience it. In this post-modern world Franklin brings to light the embedded loneliness that has become a feature of society. It is in this social media driven, individualised world where we all want to keep our options open, that we need a better understanding of mental ill health more than ever. #s344uow18 #shoal #tut9

Andy S said : Guest Report 7 months ago

The lecture makes a key note that an “estimated 45% of people will experience mental health problem in their lifetime” (R Patulny). In the reading by Bendelow it mentions Maureen’s bad “Bratty” behaviour was attributed to her being a spoilt, only child. This means that the environment an individual grows up in can influence who they become. The reading by Bendelow states the woman gets married, has a nervous breakdown, and eventually ends up in a psychiatric ward. The woman ends up being heavily medicated. This case study then mentions she develops a drinking problem and more social issues. The answer clearly is people should not be over medicated and put in hospitals. In this case Maureen may not actually be the problem but society expectations could be considered the problem. She was stressed and depressed, and the way society dealt with that was by extreme medication and hospitalisation rather than a less aggressive alternative. A less expensive way and more pleasant way would have been therapy and mentoring. Rodger mentions in Australia it is costing over $8billion to provide hospitalisation (R Patulny). Hospitalisation should be the last resort, not the first.

Josh Coulter said : Guest Report 7 months ago

Stigmatization is a major barrier that individuals with metal illnesses have, many forms of stigma in society include anxiety and depression. Throughout Australia we have millions of cases of mental illness, we don’t just need more treatment centres but helpful social cities that support people in family, social and work environments. As a teenager I was a victim of anxiety, I often worried about social acceptance that I might not be good enough to fit in. Franklin states “social interaction becomes a more ‘liquid’ throughout society as a whole, loneliness is no longer a ‘risk’ just for particular people such as men but is embedded in the structure of Australian culture”. People need a better positive and negative understanding of stigma and what issues surround it. This will benefit that person that is linked to the certain mental health issue in their social environment. #S344UOW18 #Tut9 #Shoal

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