SOC344 2018 Tut9 – Bega

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 #Bega

Posted in SOC327 - Emotions Bodies and Society, UOW.

3 Comments on SOC344 2018 Tut9 – Bega

Carly McDonald said : Guest Report 10 months ago

It is a sad reality to live in a nation ranked second in the world for anti-depressant prescriptions, the euphemism ‘lucky country’ needs to be accurately reconfigured to ‘lucky for some’. Lianne makes the valid point that neoliberalism plays a significant role in the increasing prevalence of depression and anxiety in Australia. The commodification of health is breeding ‘disease mongering lobbies’ who become focused on creating profitable businesses, rather than the health and well-being of Australian citizens (Bendelow 2009, p.94). Australian society must pose the question who do these supposed pharmaceutical and health initiatives serve? If expenditure in these areas in increasing, then why is anxiety and depression the rise? A post-structuralist theoretical framework is needed to analyse the complex relations in late modernity between individuals and society and how this is impacting mental health in Australia. This framework will force the negative effects of neoliberal ideologies into the spotlight and allow for more progressive mental health initiatives to take place, initiatives that serve individuals and society, rather than big corporations.

Liane Munro said : Guest Report 10 months ago

Despite the resources and public expenditure that is being invested in mental illness in twenty-first century western societies, depression and anxiety continue to cause billions of dollars in lost productivity and is the dominant cause of disability in late modernity. The moral emotions generated by depression and anxiety are shame, guilt, embarrassment, and disgust (Paltulny 2018). Sennett (2000) notes the impacts of the loosening social bonds and the instability of relationships in work, family, and community in late modernity. In the twenty-first century, cities across the globe actively replicate standardised consumption and experience, diminishing unique history and memory, and destroying our sense of community; whilst workplaces intentionally discouraged belonging and connection. For a highly social species, this lack of certainty and connection is profoundly stressful. Bendelow (2009, pp. 99-104) maintains that the aetiology of mental illness is a combination of social, economic and cultural factors as well as having a biological pathology. Although it has been accepted that there is a definite social causation to mental illness, alleviating these social problems is considered utopian, and the obstacles insurmountable. Paltulny (2018) argues that stigma plays a significant role in depression and anxiety. Additionally, it could be argued that our highly individualised, competitive, disconnected society, perpetuated in late modernity by neo-liberalism, also plays a significant role. #S344UOW18 #Tut9 #Bega

Moira Malseed said : Guest Report 10 months ago

Today is it our values that have changed? Or is society being pushed and pulled by an ever-evolving market of Capitalism, that helps shape our cities by the flow of capital and demands for mobility and profit: rather than meeting the needs of residents. (Patulny 2018) Jobs within a modern urban environment are unstable and lack connectiveness with other workers, this gives individuals a more flexible workplace with “a sense of incompleteness”. (Sennett 2000, p. 11) In the past our working environment gave us social connection with other workers. If unemployment and poverty are associated with social isolation and mental health issues (Bendelow 2009, p. 101) then it stands to reason why working within a job that is unstable and empty of human connection would increase the likelihood of depression and anxiety. Is the disconnection today part of the reason our mental health is at risk? In developed countries those suffering from depression or mental health issues the doctors are more likely to medicate patients for long periods of time. The doctors in undeveloped countries stop medication when the patient gets better. (Bendelow 2009, p. 101) Is it possible that this modern life has lost the connection with others and the community spirit. Is this capitalist society pushing towards an individual work ethic controlling our workers and increasing the need for medicalization?#S344UOW18#Tut9#Bega

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