Social Perspectives in Mental Health – Jerry Tew.

I decided to take a look at this book by Jerry Tew as just from the title I assumed I would be able to get a sense of that generalised attitude towards mental health.

Firstly, Tew discusses how “mental distress must be seen as situated within a continuum of everyday lived experience, and not constructed as some alien entity which separates our some people as fundamentally ‘different’ and starts to define their identities in terms of their ‘pathology’ (see Bainbridge, 1999).” (Tew, 2005: 16). This stood out to me about how people who suffer with mental illness can often be viewed as different to ourselves and as a result of this, can often be treated differently, for example they may be discriminated against in the work place. Tew enforces the importance as seeing people who suffer just the same as ourselves – anyone can suffer with mental illness, it may change their perceptions or attitudes but deep down they are still the same person. I think although my project will be sharing the thoughts and emotions my participants feel, I also think it will be interesting to somehow make the viewer consider how they are very similar to themselves, if done in the right way I think this could make my work quite powerful however at this moment I am not sure how I would approach this.

Similar to this, Tew explains “…a third foundation of a social perspectives approach must be a commitment to hear and take seriously what people may have to say about their mental distress.” (Tew, 2005: 16). This draws on the points I have just made about treating people differently, if so, they may not be heard and this is one of the most important things about helping support those whom suffer with mental illness. Any kind of mental illness can be very isolating, so taking the time to make sure they are heard or not alone is crucial. This is why I think projects like mine may be small, but are important with helping others.

As I was getting into the book, I noticed the referral to ‘mental distress’ rather than ‘mental illness’. Confused, it made me wonder whether I was actually reading about something different to what I wanted. Is illness and distress the same thing? However Tew cleared up my confusion through “a shift from a discourse of ‘mental illness’ to one of ‘mental distress’ signals a move away from emphasis on some objective disease entity (and the tendency to conflate the person with their hypothetical illness) to a more ‘full-on’ appreciation of the subjective pain, unhappiness or confusion that a person may be experiencing.” (Tew, 2005: 18). This was really interesting to consider as just the term used to describe mental illness can have an affect on how it is perceived. I have often seen things on social media such as comic strips, where for example someone will be lying in a hospital bed but someone telling them just to ‘get over it’. This can often be the reaction people have to those who suffer with mental illness but you would never see this being said to someone with cancer for example. Appreciating the fact these type of illnesses are completely different, it is often that mental illness is not regarded with the same seriousness as other illnesses. With people being able to understand how devastating mental illness can be, it will help change the social perspective.

mentalillnesscomic (Bustle.com 2015)

“A common aspect of many ‘trigger’ events is an enforced sense of powerlessness.” (Tew, 2005: 24). With a lot of discussion about things that can cause mental distress such as trauma and abuse from the past, with my knowledge of SAD so far I wasn’t finding anything particularly relevant. However this stood out to me as the cause of Seasonal Affective Disorder cannot be prevented, therefore suffers have no power to try and stop or control it before it engulfs their lives every year. This ‘sense of powerlessness’ may be something interesting to incorporate into my project somehow, or to be conscious of whether it comes into discussion when speaking with my participants. I think this can be a huge struggle with mental illness, suffering anxiety myself, the feeling of no control can often create a vicious cycle. Without things in my control it can cause my anxiousness, however I have no power to control particular things/events which can often lead to avoiding particular situations. It would be interesting to hear how my participants feel about having no control over the change in seasons and how this affects their emotions.

“…the disability movement has argued that is is not physical impairments that are hardest to live with in themselves – it is society’s responses, in terms of stigma and discrimination, that can be most damaging…These issues apply similarly to people who are experiencing mental distress.” (Tew, 2005: 25). The power of this point speaks for itself – for any kind of illness, having to cope and handle the situation and the challenges that are thrown at you, that is hard enough. However not only this, but anyone who suffers with an illness has to cope with everything else that comes with it – ‘stigma and discrimination’. I would like to approach this subject when talking with my participants on their feelings of society’s perceptions of the illness. Everybody has their own story, and whilst some people may have had great support, others may have nothing, some may have both. I would like to be able to enhance my understanding of how social perspective has affected people individually.

“‘Mental illness’ and ‘mental disorder’ are routinely introduced as legal defences for criminal and violent behaviour.” (Tew, 2005: 35). Although this point isn’t relevant to what I am investigating, I do find it really interesting how this highlights the depth of prejudice and how far it can go. It suggests that mental illness can become an ‘excuse’ and also leads it to be associated with violence and danger. With these perceptions, often many sufferers can be looked upon the same way – if you suffer with a mental illness, does this make you a threat or danger to others? Of course not!

This book was really helpful in backing up my own ideas and perceptions I had. It highlighted what I felt was the case with stigma towards mental illness but also brought a few things to my attention which I am now considering to approach when speaking to my participants. I am keen to explore this feeling of ‘powerlessness’ as I think this plays a huge factor in SAD. There is no control over time, the seasons, weather or the light changing. Despite this may be quite controlling, it also leads me to question what prevention methods or techniques my participants may use to help themselves – kind of finding a sense of power in such a situation. I also feel as I am looking so much into this ‘stigma’ that surrounds mental health, that I ask my participants how they feel about it. This may lead to some interesting, personal stories of how it might have affected them individually if they would be comfortable to share this information with me.

Bustle.com, (2015) Bustle [online] available from <http://www.bustle.com/articles/10139-if-physical-diseases-were-treated-like-mental-illnesses-it-would-look-something-like-this&gt; [17 January 2015]

Tew, J. (2005) Social Perspectives In Mental Health. London: Jessica Kingsley.

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~ by victoriasimkissphotography on January 17, 2015.

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