SOC344 2018 Tut9 – Mossvale

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 #Mvale

Posted in SOC327 - Emotions Bodies and Society, UOW.

4 Comments on SOC344 2018 Tut9 – Mossvale

Holly Lambert said : Guest Report 7 months ago

Social media platforms today can be used for positive and engaging ways regarding effective communication. However, this platform cannot elimanate the positive interactions caused by having a good old fashioned chat face to face. Thus, involving yourself in regular catch ups in person is important for maintaining a healthy mental state. Seeing worldwide the detrimental effects that social media has on societies is alarming. As a consquence individuals are facing more situations of loneliness and isolation even though we are supposedly more connected than ever. This is causing an epidemic of individuals who already could suffer anxious thoughts or suffer from depression to isolate themselves more. In response to this crisis is these so called social media interactions making people feel valued and accepted or causing more division and placing higher expectations to follow trend so they feel a sense of belonging? I wonder how the young generations of today will combat these toxic structures that have been put into place by money hungry savages. A good old fashioned chat over a cup of tea is so beautiful to experince and a healthy way to function. Taking part in these meetings cause for people to feel like they are loved and genuinly cared for.

Bronwyn Sims said : Guest Report 7 months ago

Lorann and Zeljka you have both raised some really good points here. Supposed mental disorders are over medicated without a more holistic approach being taken to get to the core causes. The speed of life, as Zeljka notes, and the precariousness of everything in our lives - work, relationships, housing, cost of living, lack of family support etc only compounds people's sense of helplessness and hopelessness, not to mention the poor quality of food that we consume which robs our bodies of the nutrients we need to keep our bodies and minds healthy.

zeljka o'malley said : Guest Report 7 months ago

I agree with you Lorann, social media (for some) has played a role in distancing people from face-to-face interactions. But, its also combined with the increase of population, not only in our cities, but also in our towns and villages. People feel overwhelmed by the speed in which the world is moving, therefore, disconnected to their social environment causing anxiety and depression etc… With the combination of the two, this individualized society, as you mentioned, is created. Unfortunately, we medicalize everything, creating big business for the pharmaceutical industry, which continues to expand. This can be seen as the driving force for over medicating, instead of using other ways to help and support, such as counselling and other mental health services. Maybe one solution, as Sennett suggests, is to create places of gathering within communities and housing developments such as halls and bbq area, and similar gathering points, to encourage community members to feel connected and that sense of belonging. By creating an inclusive social structure, could minimise anxiety, depression and other mental illnesses, and potentially change the stigma against mental illness.

Lorann McCann said : Guest Report 7 months ago

Not having being diagnosed with Anxiety, depression or any other mental illness I take an outsiders opinion and experience of these situations. However, I often find that people who are diagnosed are simply prescribed a medication but no physical work is put into place to physically bring people back to their healthy self. I fail to understand how someone can begin to feel sad over a long period and stop participating in social activity and have a pill a few times a day to fix it? I feel that most depression and anxiety is a result of this new individualised society, only last week I was going to go home from a small fate and not even see what was happening inside it because I did not want to walk around on my own. With social media on the rise social interactions are becoming less and less and people (including myself) are becoming fearful of this social interaction because we are forgetting how to communicate and how to start a conversation. Why aren’t the reasons behind the anxiety, depression and other mental illnesses being explored and then working on a system to socially fix the problem instead of prescribing a pill?

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