Mental Health: Societal Perspectives

Instructor: Laura Foist

Laura has a Masters of Science in Food Science and Human Nutrition and has taught college Science.

In this lesson, we will learn about mental health and how society perceives mental health. We will learn how this affects those with mental health disorders in getting assistance.

Mental Health in Everyday Life

How frequently do we watch criminal shows and some of the scariest criminals end up having schizophrenia or another mental illness? These criminals are shown as having an altered sense of reality, and it causes them to do horrible things. Or maybe we hear of someone who is struggling with depression, and someone says, 'I've been sad before, they just have to eventually choose to get over it.'

These kinds of attitudes are the perspectives that society frequently has when it comes to mental health. It wasn't that long ago that we institutionalized everyone with poor mental health. In this lesson, we will explore perspectives as it relates to different mental health issues.

In order to explore these perspectives let's look at two different examples: an African American woman, Jenna, and a Caucasian woman, Mary. Both have bipolar. We will look at how these different perspectives will affect these different women.

Historical Societal Perspectives

There are many different mental health disorders: depression, bi-polar, borderline personality, OCD, anxiety, and schizophrenia are just a few. They each have their own stereotype, but they all are not well understood by the general public. This generally leads to misunderstanding or fearing those who have these diseases.

In the last century, we, as a society, have come a long way in our perspectives on mental health. In the 1600s, it was common to imprison those with mental disorders. By the 1800s, those with mental disorders were still institutionalized, but the role of medicine was more fully used as a treatment method instead of torture. The 20th century saw many advances in the role of medication for treating mental disorders. Health care for mental disorders has rapidly changed in the last century, from torture, to psychoanalysis, to greater understanding of chemicals in the brain.

Historically, let's look at Jenna. Historically, we don't know much about what care would have been given to her. The earliest recorded care for an African American with a mental disorder was of a slave, Kate. Kate killed a child but was found to be 'out of the senses.' Her owner was not able to afford her care in an institution, so a law was passed that the community was in charge of ensuring health care for those in the community with mental illnesses.

Now, let's look at Mary. As a woman, if her bipolar was not severe, these issues could have easily been simply disregarded as a womanly issue or her nerves. She was a woman with her ups and downs. Yet, even as a woman, if it was severe enough, she would have been institutionalized.

Mental Health and Medication

There have been many advances in medications that can help those with mental illnesses live a more fulfilling life. Yet, there are still a lot of stigmas when it comes to medicating mental illness, which makes it difficult for those with mental illness to take their medications. There are two common perspectives in regards to medication:

  1. It will cause the person to change, to no longer be themselves any more.
  2. Doctors are over medicating, causing a person to become reliant on the medication instead of finding a way to work through their illness on their own.

Most people don't like change, someone may not like being depressed, but at least they are familiar with that feeling. If they think that a depression medication could change their personality then they worry that they will no longer be the same person. Frequently, this perspective is seen once a patient starts taking a medication and doesn't like how the side effects can make them feel like a different person. This will then make them afraid to try any other types of medications.

Then there's the idea that doctors are over medicating. This is common when it comes to issues such as ADHD. We commonly hear people complain about how this is simply a normal way for a child to act, and so why should we medicate the child? The child simply needs to grow up and grow out of that stage of development. But the fear is that if we medicate the child then the child will become dependent on that medication instead of developing naturally into an adult.

Both of these perspectives are harmful to those with mental illness because it can dissuade them from properly taking their medication or even seeking out medication.

Mental Health and Therapy

Another common medical care practice is therapy, the practice of helping someone through mental illness by talking and exploring attitudes and feelings. While this practice is typically more acceptable to society than medication, it is still frequently looked down upon.

There have been stories of therapists helping patients 'remember' past incidents that had been previously forgotten, only to learn that these 'memories' aren't true. Stories such as this cause people to distrust therapy.

There are also doubts when it comes to therapy because it is a continually changing science as therapists learn new techniques. But since one technique that was used ten years ago is no longer seen as effective this makes people wonder how effective current techniques may be.

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