Sociology of Mental Illness

SOC-S324 — Spring 2019

Pamela Braboy Jackson
Wylie Hall 015
Days and Times
8:00 a.m. - 9:15 a.m. MW
Course Description

This course is a survey of theories and research in the sociology of mental health and mental disorder. The course will emphasize how sociologists view mental illness, the causes of mental illness, and the social and institutional responses to the mentally ill.

There are three major segments to this course. The first section will address the primary question of what is mental illness? We focus on types of mental illness (e.g., schizophrenia, mood disorders), the classification of mental illness (i.e., the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, DSM), and current prevalence estimates in the U.S. and other nations. We discuss how the conceptualization of what constitutes mental illness varies both historically and cross-culturally. Here, the focus is on understanding the major debates in the field of mental illness.

In the second section, we investigate who gets sick, focusing attention to the patterns of mental illness as well as the dominant theoretical explanations in the field. This section focuses on comparing and contrasting medical and social models of mental illness and demonstrating that these models have different implications for the treatment and policies targeted at mental illness. Here, we examine the role of social factors in the onset, course, and outcome of mental disorders. The student should leave this section knowing exactly what percentage of the American population have been diagnosed with various mental illnesses.

The third section addresses the deinstitutionalization of the mentally ill during the 1960's and 1970's, the consequences of deinstitutionalization for both the mentally ill and society as a whole, and possible solutions to the present problems vexing the mental health system in the United States. We will focus on the problem of stigma and current mental health services, with special attention to patterns of help-seeking behavior, treatment techniques, and barriers to effective treatment. Mental health policies in other countries will be described and discussed during this point in the semester. An important ethical dilemma is raised in this section of the course; the student will be encouraged to weigh the pros and cons of the debates covered.

The primary goal of this course is to see mental illness as a social phenomenon, not just as a medical or psychological problem. Specifically, this means that mental illness is seen as a consequence of interpersonal, institutional, and cultural factors, not just the troubles of specific individuals. Toward this end, we will locate mental illness within a social context, examine the theories and conceptions of mental health and illness with a critical eye, and assess how mental illness is constructed by various groups and larger social institutions. The goals of this course will be pursued through discussion in class of lectures and assigned readings, and film.