A Sociology of Mental Health & Illness – Anne Rogers & David Pilgrim.

This is another book I hoped I would find useful with the social attitudes towards mental health. Here are some of the main points I found relevant to my project.

“Terminology remains such a controversial issue for the sociology of mental health and illness because there are markedly different ways of speaking about mental normality and abnormality in contemporary society.” (Rogers and Pilgrim, 2005: 1). This point made me think back to ‘Social Perspectives in Mental Health’ by Jerry Tew, where the terminology used was ‘mental distress’ rather than ‘mental illness’. With such change in discourse, it encouraged the change in perception of mental illness to be considered with the same seriousness as a physical illness. Just because we cannot see mental illness does not mean it doesn’t exist or it isn’t just as awful. It’s unbelievable to think such simple things as the words used for mental illness can affect how they are perceived. Does this become the initial route of the stigma?

Rogers and Pilgrim draw upon how “lay people tend to spontaneously view ‘mental illness’ as being about psychotic or unintelligible behaviour with violent behaviour seen as reflecting mental illness or disorder.” (Rogers and Pilgrim, 2005: 25). Unaware of the meaning of ‘lay people’, I learnt it refers to those who do not have a specialised knowledge of the subject. Would it then be fair to argue that this stigma around mental illness is created by lay people? Would we refer to society who have these perceptions as lay people? Despite not having a professional understanding of a mental illness does not mean we cannot understand or at least try to what causes them, the affects it has and how they can be prevented. Yet surely if we were all able to understand this, then there wouldn’t be the stigma? I am finding that through this research it is leading to a lot of my own unanswered questions, will there ever be answers to them? Will the answers result in the change of social perception? Finally, this point also made me connect back to Jerry Tew as it is raised in the book how mental illness and disorder are used to support legal cases, thus associating the illnesses with danger. Similar to what I just said of whether lay people had this general understanding of mental illness, would it mean these associations would be diminished? I think it is massively important for this to happen because it is massively unfair to label everyone suffering with mental illness as violent or dangerous.

Similar to this, Rogers and Pilgrim expand, “stereotyping can be thought of as a form of social typing. It is not always negative but is is always and narrow and potentially misleading, because it ignores individual variability within social groups and the overlap of characteristics across them.” (Rogers and Pilgrim, 2005: 26). Once an opinion is formed of certain people, that ‘appearance’ is applied to everyone that fits under that ‘name’. This is how stereotyping becomes the basis for stigma around mental health whilst it excludes how particular people suffer and their personal journeys. This is where my project can be useful as I am speaking to different participants with different stories. It could possibly be useful to be more thorough in my presentation about particular participants to show how it differs between people, but this would be dependant on whether they would be comfortable with this or if it would rather be anonymous. I am unsure as to whether it would work better by involving my participants more, or just using the information they tell me to support my images. Following this, they argue “the stigmatised person is thus set apart from their fellows in these additive ways culminating in increased social distance, between the labeller and the labelled.” (Rogers and Pilgrim, 2005: 26). It again reiterates this separation from the ‘norm’, alienating those with mental illness and them being treated differently.

“Wahl (1995) emphasises that accurate of information is relevant because the mass media are the most common source of understanding for the general public about mental illness.” (Rogers and Pilgrim, 2005: 36). This is an interesting point as I hadn’t considered the affect the media actually has on the representation of mental illness – I was just focusing on the social perception already created. It is often known that the media can over exaggerate headlines f0r numerous reasons, but in terms of mental illness this can lead to untrue representations which are read and absorbed by many. As various forms of media are the ‘go-to’ for information, a lot of people will rely on this source as truth, essentially resulting in the continuation of people believing the general social perception of mental illness. My project will stand out from this, as a photographer I am hoping to create the best, true representation I can. I will be using various resources to research and enhance my understanding of mental illness and SAD in order to stand out from this typical perception and break the stigma.

This book was bursting with information about mental health and illness, and although I found it hard to draw out bits relevant to my project, I was able to learn a lot from it. Many things I hadn’t even considered, for example symptoms which define ‘madness’ and how they can differ through different age groups. An older person seen talking or shouting to themselves could be seen as a sign of madness yet a child doing the same thing could just be overlooked. Even things like the location these actions are taking place influence whether they are viewed as symptoms of mental illness or not. It is unbelievable the amount of different factors which define mental illness and it is hard to define a place at which someone can be declared ‘mentally ill’. Following my research into these social perceptions of mental illness, I think the next important step to take will be to hone in on Seasonal Affective Disorder and what I can find out about that. There are so many different types of mental illness, with different symptoms and perceptions, that it’s important I don’t get too lost in the general consensus about mental health and remember to focus on my particular subject.

Rogers, A. and Pilgrim, D. (2005) A Sociology Of Mental Health And Illness. 3rd edn. Maidenhead: McGraw-Hill Education.

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~ by victoriasimkissphotography on January 17, 2015.

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