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The social realist approach to mental
Influenced by the biomedical model
Believe that mental illness is caused by the physical body such
as due to the result of brain damage, genetic factors etc or as
the result of external factors that damage mental development
such as poor diet and alcohol and drug abuse
Believe symptoms of mental illness can be scientifically
diagnosed and categorised like physical diseases
Mental health practitioners such as psychiatrists suggest there
are over 350 psychiatric categories or conditions of mental
health that have been diagnosed as problematic human
behaviour such conditions include anorexia, psychosis and
bipolar disorder.
Social realists say mental illnesses can be cured just as physical
illnesses such as through drugs
Social realists believe people with mental health problems should
be isolated from wider society in secure mental health
institutions such as asylums…read more

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Social constructionism approach (social action theory) approach to
mental illness
Believe there is a relationship between mental
illness and power inequalities
Believe definitions of mental health and illness
are problematic because they are problematic
as they are socially constructed (a product of
the social interactions between different
Say some groups have the power to define or
label the behaviour of less powerful groups in
society as a problem
What is considered `normal' varies over time and
from society to society. For example
homosexuality was viewed as a mental illness
in the UK as recently as the 1960s.…read more

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The labelling perspective
Labelling theory is part of the social constructionist approach they
believe mental illness is socially constructed because of `labels'
that are given to people.
Labelling theory examines how the labelling of behaviour as `mental
illness' occurs in the 1st place and what effects it has on those who
are labelled.
Szasz- says the label `mental illness' is simply a convenient way to
deal with behaviour that those in power find disruptive. He notes
psychiatrists seem to medacalise social life where behaviour that
can be interpreted as normal are now given labels that imply
someone is suffering from a mental health problem such as
alcoholism. Psychiatrists have the power to define problematic
behaviour of children as a product of mental illness. He points out
that children were once defined as being `naughty' but recently they
have been classed as having ADHD and been put on the drug
Scheff- says that whether someone becomes labelled or not as
mentally ill is determined by the benefits that others may gain from
labelling that person as mentally ill. People who are a nuisance,
deviant, or prevent others from doing things they want such as
Rastafarians are far more likely to be defined as being mentally ill.…read more

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The consequences of being defined
as mentally ill
Labelling theory points out that once a person has been labelled `mentally ill' there are a
number of negative consequences for the person and some may argue they are given the
`master status' of being mentally ill.
Rosenhan (1973) ­ carried out a study using 8 `normal' researchers In the early 1970s in the
USA, each of the researchers volunteered to enter the institutions after complaining they
were hearing voices. Rosenhan told them to behave completely normally at all times
during their stay at the asylum however all the researchers were treated as if they were
truly mentally ill interpreting all their behaviour as a sign of their `mental illness'. For
example Rosenhan told one researcher to write down everything he saw and
experienced therefore he kept writing all of the time. The doctors interpreted him as
having `writing behaviour' which was seen as a sign of his illness. Rosenham later redid
his study in another psychiatric hospital with different researchers however doctors
were told that they would be receiving some pseudo patients who were just pretending
to be ill. In this study staff routinely judged people who were genuinely ill as just
pretending showing that even the experts could not decide who was actually ill.
Katz- supports Rosenhan's findings. He carried out an experiment showing groups of
American and British psychiatrists films of interviews with patients and asked them to
note down what they saw in the patients behaviour as symptoms of mental illness. They
were then asked to make a diagnosis. Katz discovered that there were major differences
in diagnosis between the British and Americans as the British saw less evidence of
mental illness generally. For example 1 patient was diagnosed by 1/3 of American
psychiatrists as schizophrenic but by none of the British.
Both rosenhan and Katz's studies illustrated that mental illness is a label created by society
and is socially constructed.…read more

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The mental institute as a total
In 1968 goffman took on a job at an American mental institution as an
assistant athletic director and used his position to carry out participant
observation observing how the labelling of the mentally ill affected them
and their interactions between doctors and nurses. Goffmans research was
mainly covert as the majority of staff and patients had no idea he was
conducting research. In his research goffman found that asylums are total
institutions which aim to shape the personality of patients by taking away
their sense of self which goffman called `mortification of self' as the
patients were let with little personal possessions and clothing and
disciplined by staff. Goffman says that the inmates were treated like
children as they had to follow a specific timetable and had to be told when
to eat and bathe. The self image that the patient had before such as being
funny or intelligent is stripped away leaving them vulnerable. Goffman says
the total institution re-constructs the self or personality of the patients by
rewarding and punishing them. In this powerless situation any attempts to
reject the label of being mentally ill are interpreted as further signs of the
mental illness and indicate the need for extra medication or counselling. In
fact goffman found that the institutions believed that the first sign of
recovery was accepting the role of being mentally ill. Goffman sais that
many of the patients became institutionalised as they became over
dependent on the routines of the institution and could not survive in the
outside world.…read more

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A great summary of mental illness which identifies key concepts and ideas as well as as theorists and criticism. This is a dense but extremely useful resources which can be converted into a format to suit anyone's learning style.


A great summary of mental illness which identifies key concepts and ideas as well as as theorists and criticism. This is a dense but extremely useful resources which can be converted into a format to suit anyone's learning style.

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