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Mental Health

Extracts from this essay...

Introduction

'Mistreatment and oppression is the common lot of people in our societies who are labelled as having emotional problems or acting irrationally. The threat of being called crazy is used in the oppression of every group in the population. The oppression of some people in the name of mental health functions as a threat to keep all people in line.' The above quote suggests that the experience of being diagnosed or labelled as having mental health problems, whether officially by professionals, or unofficially by lay people, family members and others with whom we have contact, is not only used as a means to explain a persons difficulties, but also as a means of control. In this instance that control is achieved through the widespread use of fear. That fear is founded on the stigma and discrimination that people with mental health problems experience on a daily basis and only works as a means of control if everyone in society is aware of the prejudicial treatment with which they themselves treat other people. This work will examine the control of persons labelled as 'crazy', historically, politically and socially. It will raise questions concerning definitions of mental health and ask whether such labels are being applied to people whose behaviour does not fit with the hegemonic standards of morality that exist in society at a particular point in time. We will also be looking at the experiences of young people using Nightstop, a voluntary sector project, and seek to show how homeless young people are at a greater than average risk of developing mental health difficulties whist suggesting practical steps that can be taken to reduce that risk. Definitions of mental ill-health have fluctuated over time and place and they are inextricably bound up in social and cultural norms. Graham Richards also argues that 'a society's concept of madness is necessarily also a statement of normality (although each eludes neat formulation).

Middle

Women become vulnerable to being labelled mentally disordered when they fail to conform to stereotypical gender roles as mothers, housewives etc., if they are too submissive, too aggressive or hostile to men' (Pilgrim & Rogers, 1999:31). The fact that homosexuality was only declassified as a psychiatric illness by the World Health Organisation in 1992 offers another possibility of how failure to conform to acceptable familial roles can lead to labels of mental illness. The identification of different familial organisation within minority groups has not been excluded from attack in respect of mental illness and differences between such families and the traditional, white, British, nuclear family have been highlighted for special attention. What we are left with is a belief in the failure of the family as a cause of mental illness and a clear identification of diagnosis resting with unacceptable behaviour. Both of these standpoints serve the interests of different sections of society. In blaming the family we see the possibility of abdication of responsibility, and in the control of unacceptable behaviour, we not only have the ability to remove people whom we believe represent a threat to our ideas of social order, but the treatment of said undesirables actually provides an excellent opportunity to make money. This is not only in terms of the services of professionals such psychiatrists and psychoanalysts and all of those who make a living from mental health services but also in terms of the profits to be made from the provision of drugs. The use of drugs, like the blaming of the family clouds the debate concerning the causes of mental illness and 'the treatment of individual 'pathology' disguises its social causes and deflects attention from the need for political change' (Pilgrim & Rogers, 1999: 35). The use of prescription drugs is itself a form of social control since 'they transform social problems into medical ones' (Pilgrim & Rogers, 1999:35)

Conclusion

Working with young people who are living independently we can develop independent living skills so that they can survive the adult world of responsibility and grow into competent adults themselves. We can do much as workers to provide supportive relationships where none currently exist by encouraging self-help groups and befriending services and ensure young people are heard by a wider audience, community leaders, service providers and policy makers by looking at advocacy and mediation services and actively involving young people in decision making processes. These activities lie at the heart of youth and community work for all people, not just for those with mental health difficulties. None of this however is worth doing if we do not also attack the structural inequalities inherent in present day society. We can for example, work with an empowerment model that has as its starting point a belief that 'empowerment implies that many competencies are already present or at least possible - empowerment implies that what you see as poor functioning is a result of social structure and lack of resources which make it impossible for the existing competencies to operate' (McKay in Clarke, 2003: reading 34:17). Our work is therefore not just about enabling people to live with unliveable situations without trying to effect real change on a structural level. This means being aware of the ideological basis on which much of society is based and the hegemonic standards against which people are being judged so that we can effectively challenge taken for granted ideas and assumptions that are actually social constructs and not unquestionable reality. Our efforts at prevention therefore require 'the ideological decision to line up with those humanists who believe in social change, in the effectiveness of consultation, in education, in the primary prevention of human physical and emotional misery and in the maximisation of individual competence.' (Albee in Clarke, 2003: reading 26:1050).

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