The Social Model of Mental Illness

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The Social Model of Mental Illness The social model of mental illness emphasizes the social environment and the roles people play. Thomas Scheff maintains that people diagnosed as mentally ill are victims of the status quo, guilty of often unnamed violations of social norms; thus the label "mental illness" can be used as an instrument of social control. I agree with Scheff's analysis, and I strongly concur with the view Thomas Szasz takes on the notion of mental illness. Szasz argues that much of what we call "mental illness" is a myth; it is not an illness, but simply "problems in living", troubles caused by conflicting personal needs, opinions, social aspirations, values, and so forth (Szasz 13). It thus follows that the widely accepted medical model of mental illness is inherently flawed; that mental illness should, then, certainly not be treated much like physical illness. Szasz is extremely critical of contemporary psychiatry as a discipline, arguing that psychiatrists are not benign professionals helping to liberate individuals and improve their lives by diagnosing and treating mental illnesses, but instead act as agents of social control; silencing, stigmatizing and dehumanizing people who disturb the prevailing social order. Every society rewards conformity; those with more serious problems in living often do a very poor job of conforming, and are punished accordingly. In Ideology and Insanity: Essays on the Psychiatric Dehumanization of Man, Thomas Szasz writes that "on the one hand, by seeking relief from the burden of his moral responsibilities, man mystifies and technicizes his problems in living...on the other hand, the demand for "help" thus generated is now met by a behavioral tec... ... middle of paper ... ...s in trying to understand and properly treat what is known as mental illness, we should give some credibility and responsibility back to those who are labeled "mentally ill," looking to them for ideas, for suggestions, for guidance. Those who have more severe problems in living (as well as their families and/or friends) may know more about their predicament than those who do not, and may be able to propose, indirectly or directly, remedies that may alleviate their unfortunate plight. Bibliography: Awake! Magazine. "Hope for the Mentally Ill." September 8, 1986 ed, pgs.3-10. Watchtower Bible & Tract Society of New York, Inc, 1986. Kaysen, Susanna. Girl, Interrupted. Turtle Bay Books. New York, NY, 1993. Szasz, Thomas. Ideology and Insanity: Essays on the Psychiatric Dehumanization of Man. Syracuse University Press. Syracuse, NY, 1991
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