Sociological issues in the conceptualization of mental illness


  • Bob Symonds MA RMN RCNT CertEdFE

    Nurse Tutor, Corresponding author
    1. Birmingham College of Nurse Education, West Birmingham Division, ‘Arden House’, Dudley Road Hospital Birmingham, England
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Mr R F Symonds 55 Chesterwood Road Kings Heath Birmingham B13 0QQ England


This paper explores the conceptual knowledge base underpinning ‘mental illness type behaviour’ and offers a sociological and philosophical perspective The role of values in concepts of health and illness is presented as widespread not only within psychiatry, but also in regard to general/physical health The controversial nature of the psychiatric enterprise is believed to be due to the lack of consensus regarding notions of mental health and mental illness Psychiatry is presented as a form of social control, akin to the legal system, dictated by moral norms These are presented as value-loaded and maintained in accordance with the dictates of particular interest groups Social control concepts are explored and Freud's psychodynamic model is presented as a legitimate model that incorporates a meaningful concept of ‘illness' No theory, though, is presented as value-free Psychiatry is thus presented as being socially and politically constructed The implication for health care professionals is presented as that of trying to liberate professional work from the narrow responsibility of the ‘individual’, whilst also trying to create a more democratic enterprise