Sociology | Mental Illness
S324 | 0600 | Saulsbury


This course is designed to give you an overview of the ways a
sociological perspective informs our understanding of mental health
and illness.  While sociologists, psychologists, psychiatrists,
social workers, and others all deal with issues of mental illness,
the way they approach the subject differs significantly.  In
general, the sociological perspective challenges dominant views of
mental illness, examining how social relationships play a role in
mental illness, questioning the goals and implementations of mental
health policy and researching how mental health services are
organized and provided.  In this class we will look beyond
individual symptoms and diagnoses of mental illness and focus
instead on the mechanisms operating in the social environment that
each contributes to the structure, perception and maintenance of
mental illness.

Mental illness is a basic part of social life, and afflicts many
people.  Estimates of
Schizophrenia in the population range from 0.6% to 3%, about 0.3%
for affective psychosis, between 8.0% and 15.0% for neurosis, and
about 7% for personality disorder.  The total of these ranges from
16% to 25% prevalence in the U.S. population.

Additionally, mental illness has always played a major role in
popular culture and basic human awareness.  Mental illness has
figured largely in poetry, fiction, drama, art, and music.  Many of
the perceptions of mental illness form key parts of childhood
socialization and adult belief systems.  The mad artist, the
frightening asylum, the mentally ill relative in the family closet,
fear of a halfway house in the neighborhood, the mental patient's
terror and desolation -- all these are part of the many perceptions
of mental illness.

This course is interdisciplinary, in that it includes material from
many fields.  But there is a coherent organizing theme:  the need to
understand mental illness in a broad social context.  Too often
psychopathology is studied as a discrete entity, with little regard
to its social origins and to the institutions of social control
involved in mental illness.  Such scientific detachment detracts
from quality therapeutic care, as well as reinforcing public fears
of mental illness.  In this course students will explore how madness
is a very ordinary human possibility which can be creative and/or
destructive, breakdown and/or breakthrough.  Precisely the
significant attention paid to madness by all cultural institutions
indicates how central madness is to human life.