Mental Illness

SOC-S 324 — Fall 2017 — Themester

view station facing bridge
Brea L. Perry
Ballantine Hall 310
Days and Times
1:00P-2:15P TR
Course Description

Consistent with the goals of Themester 2017, entitled Diversity, Difference, Otherness, this course considers fundamental theoretical and empirical questions about how we construct, experience, respond to, and sometimes resist medical definitions of difference. The sociological study of mental illness provides a critical perspective on three important elements of human diversity and otherness. First, how do particular behaviors, emotions, or cognitions come to be defined and labeled as abnormal? The distinction between mental illness and normality reflects the socially constructed and often subjective boundaries of acceptable difference. In this course, we will identify stakeholder groups that construct and maintain definitions of difference as illness, as well as who benefits from such distinctions. We will also discuss how these definitions differ across cultures and over time.

Second, which people and groups in society are disproportionately likely to be labeled as having a mental illness and what are the consequences of this othering? Experimental studies indicate that research and clinical practice is fraught with bias, created or exacerbating group differences in rates of diagnosis with mental illness. These patterns are extremely important because people labeled with a mental illness must confront negative social stigma, including beliefs that people with mental illness are flawed, unintelligent, weak, unpredictable, or dangerous. When difference is labeled as mental illness, there are real social consequences for life chances and wellbeing. In the course, we will discuss these social patterns and explore the causes and consequences of mental illness stigma in contemporary society.

Third, how do we, as a society, manage and respond to mental illness? Historically, society has segregated people with mental illness from the rest of the population. Prior to the deinstitutionalization movement, psychiatric patients were confined to asylums and often subjected to bizarre and inhumane “treatments”. However, reforms implemented in the 1960’s and ‘70’s reduced the number of inpatient psychiatric beds and created an outpatient public community mental health system that is chronically underfunded – increasing homelessness, crime, and imprisonment among people with mental illness. This course will cover historical and contemporary responses to mental illness, exploring what these social, clinical, and policy trends reveal about public attitudes toward difference and the other.

Interested in this course?

The full details of this course are available on the Office of the Registrar website.

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