Current research by Social Care Institute for Excellence, (SCIE), suggests that one person in six will become depressed at some point in their lives, and, at any one time, one in twenty adults will be experiencing depression. I will discuss the definition of depression and its interpretation along with the biomedical model, interpersonal, psychological and institutional perspectives. Then discuss the social, economic, environmental and political factors that contribute to the developing of depression and their relation to sociological and psychological theory with particular relevance to black and minority ethnic (BME) groups.
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In England and Wales the Mental Health Act 1983 defines ‘mental disorder’ as: ‘mental illness, psychopathic disorder and any other disability of mind’. There is a dual role of legislation: providing for care while at the same time controlling people who are deemed to be experiencing mental disorder to the extent that they are at a risk to the public or themselves. World Health Organization WHO (2001), marks depression as when “Capacity for enjoyment, interest, and concentration is reduced, and marked tiredness after even minimum effort is common. Sleep is usually disturbed and appetite diminished. Self-esteem and self-confidence are almost always reduced and, even in the mild form, some ideas of guilt or worthlessness are often present.”
Mental health is a contested concept which can be viewed from different medical, psychological and social perspectives, which lead to diverse views on what mental health is. Depression is a mental illness and, can affect anyone at different points in their lives, from every background and occupation. Categorizing populations as experiencing depression, involves making judgments by the use of scales of mental health and these judgments determine cut-off points on a continuum of mental health or illness and are socially constructed. A rating scale commonly used to measure the mental health of populations is the Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale (HADS). A study by Singleton et al., (2001) found that 76 per cent of the participants, who reported symptoms of mental distress, did not receive any treatment from a health professional for their problems. Sainsbury (2002) study refers to a culture of fear within the BME populace. Causation is affected by the practitioners who diagnose and treat depression and the public perception of depression however there are many perspectives.
Biomedical model focus on biological aspects of depression and look for symptoms that relate to diagnostic categories of mental disorder with a view that a sick body can be restored to health. Interpersonal perspectives on depression focus on individual people, experiencing mental distress, together with family and friends, psychologists and counselors also taking account of the views and experiences of service users and survivors. One such perspective is to see madness as a difference rather than an illness, like the social model of disability Oliver (2002). People’s actions can be open to different interpretations which are influenced by the perspectives of those making the interpretation. However there are commonsense perspectives of depression including personal experience with the people in closest contact, a relative or friend, may form opinions of the likely causes of the distress. Their opinions may include aspects of the person’s personality and recognize the impact of external stressors such as bereavement, debt or work demands. Overall they are more likely to emphasize the impact of social, rather than biological or psychological, factors.
Psychological perspectives on depression explores unconscious thinking, possible past traumas and focuses on helping service users to realize their potential and focus on social support and psychological interventions. This has created the development of psychotherapeutic treatments or ‘talking therapies’, such as cognitive behavioural therapies (CBT) has become the psychological treatment of choice in many NHS-funded services. Advantages of CBT include having some support, someone to talk to and developing coping strategies. Disadvantages of CBT include – The focus being on here and now, when the person might want to spend more time discussing past issues. CBT is a relatively effective way of helping someone deal with their distress that puts the client back in control of their life. Despite the evidence that has been collected to support the use of different psychological treatments, their effectiveness continues to be debated and funding is mainly offered in private practice or within institutions. (McLeod, 2000; Holmes, 2002) By contrast, the prescription route is a commonly referred to and accepted path with no self-criticism or self-awareness required.
Institutional perspectives or psychiatric perspectives on depression hold biological and genetic theories of causation for depression, and prescribe biological and physical treatments. Psychiatric perspectives emphasize the diagnosis of symptoms of depression in order to place people into categories of illness. The influence of GPs and psychiatrists is powerful in determining what is and what is not considered to be a mental health problem. Psychiatrists have powers to detain patients for treatment against their will. Psychiatry, through its association with medicine, tends to take precedence over psychological and social perspectives.
The bio-psychosocial model introduced by Engel (1980) acknowledges the interactions between the person’s biology, their psychological makeup and their social situation as important in understanding their mental distress. It encourages a more holistic approach to treatment. However, it has not provided the hoped-for basis of an accepted multidisciplinary approach. The Social support perspectives believes social factors and the person’s experiences cause depression and social support restores the mentally distressed person to wellbeing and social functioning. However it is also viewed as an addition to psychiatric treatment, where the service user is established on their medication, and social issues investigated.
Puttnam cited in Gross (2005) refers to social capital as a supportive social atmosphere and discusses bridging and bonding ties and the absence of these can lead to social isolation. Cockerham (2007) makes the connection where depression and illness are most likely among those with little or no social capital. There is also a tendency for the individual to, once diagnosed, to play the ‘sick role’, Rosenhan (1975) refers to the stickiness of labels and Goffman (1961) refers to looping and deviancy amplification that is associated with stigmatization and labeling of individuals. However our social standing is not the only element that contributes to our sense of well being. The environment that we live and are brought up in greatly influence our health Ross (2000) cited in Cockerham (2007) compares advantaged and disadvantaged neighborhoods finding that higher levels of depression occur in the latter with individuals suffering psychologically because of their environment although there were links to their individualism – female sex, younger age, ethnicity, low education, low income, unemployment, unmarried with the remainder from living in a poor neighbourhood. The daily stressors of living with crime, disorder and danger all link with symptoms of depression. Those living in clean and safe neighbourhoods showed low levels of depression. Distressing neighborhoods’ produce distress beyond that from individual disadvantage with poverty and single mother households the strongest predictor of depression. However the lack of choice and powerlessness of poverty make the emotional consequences of living in a bad neighbourhood worse.
Poverty can lead to poorer mental health where access to employment and welfare benefits, can be seen as health-promoting activities. For most nations, spending on mental health promotion is low Appleby, (2004), and the resources put into mental health promotion are minuscule compared with those used for treating ill health. Schulz et al. (2000) cited in Cockerham (2007) found high psychological distress highest amongst blacks and whites living in high poverty areas, slum living conditions. Wilson and Pickett (2006) cited in Cockerham (2007) stated that stress , poor social networks , low self esteem , depression , anxiety, insecurity and loss of a sense of control are reduced and social cohesion in enhanced – when income levels are more equal- however equalizing income is inherently political.
Sir Donald Acheson’s Independent Inquiry into Inequalities in Health Report (1998) recommendations will require policy changes to occur with reference to changes in building design, planning and access to health care treatments, although most research data on interventions tend to be tested on white, middle aged well educated men and women therefore the efficacy with black or mixed ethnic BME is not proven. The report also links depression and anxiety with obesity and inactivity and encourages physical exercise as obesity and inactivity is increasing in lower socio economic classes. The media and the NIMBY phenomenon exemplifies the exclusion that often accompanies a diagnosis of depression. This raises issues of complex ethical and political issues along with human and civil rights.
According to Blaxter (2004) health, disease and illness are social constructs; they are categories which have been named, and defined, by human beings. Bowers (1998) argues that diagnostic classification systems are culturally influenced, but involve: – careful, detailed observation, publication and peer review. Psychiatric diagnoses are based on social judgments of behaviour and experiences. These judgments can be socially and culturally influenced. For example, you will automatically ‘get well’ by travelling to a country where your beliefs are widely shared. This obviously does not happen with heart disease. Problems of subjectivity and unrecognized cultural assumptions may complicate the process of diagnosis. ‘Neither minds nor bodies develop illnesses. Only people do’ (Kendall 2001).
Recognition that both physical and mental factors are involved in mental distress could mean that a diagnosis of depression would be no more stigmatizing than having a heart condition.
Foucault cited in Giddens (2006) was a post-structuralist theorist who believed that people’s views on depression are the results of discourse that exists to define and subjugate people in society. He also, through the process of social archaeology, examines how the issues of mental health existed in the past and how they are a modern conception of normal and deviant activity , defining them as a construct built on power in society and how that power operates , this therefore links in to social constructionist theory. Social constructionism is the belief that our understanding of depression as a reality, overlooks the processes through which the reality is constructed. Our current sociological thinking is one of a historic white male centred Eurocentric model with women historically viewed as hormonal creatures and this gender difference is still prevalent to day in the way we use language with gender differences in the way society defines these roles.
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Brown and Harris (1974) model of depression drew links with unhappy life events that can lead to depression when mixed with his four vulnerability factors which he identified as ; 3 or more children under 14, loss of mother before 11, lack of employment, lack of intimate & confiding relationships. He established that these factors plus an unhappy life event led to 83% women became depressed with working class women more likely to become depressed. Kasen et al (2010) have conducted a study supporting the effects of enduring earlier stress both in childhood , poor health status and a more rapid deterioration in health and the effects this has on major depressive disorder on women in old age and the need to develop resources to counteract stress exposures in younger generations of women. These factors need to be considered in the understanding not only from a feminist perspective but also from a black perspective as black women are multiply disadvantaged, hooks cited in Giddens (2005).
Immigration has played a major part in the creation of culturally diverse communities in UK society. The majority of the UK population in the National Census (2001) census was white (92 per cent). The remaining 7.9 per cent were from different minority ethnic groups. Karlsen et al. (2002) states that ethnic groups experience significant racism, unfair discrimination and social exclusion. This needs to be considered when understanding their mental health experiences. Social inequalities in education, employment and health disproportionately affect members of minority ethnic groups. This all leads to increased mental distress. Also black male’s lives are much harder as they have to live to a set of unconscious rules written in Westernised psychiatry which leads to their current diagnosis. People from minority ethnic groups find that mental health services are not sympathetic to their particular needs. A report from the Sainsbury Centre (2002) concluded, black people are disproportionately disadvantaged and their experiences of mental health services are characterised by fear and conflict. ‘Delivering Race Equality’ was launched in January 2005 and requires health authorities, and NHS trusts to ensure equality of services. The Department of Health has set ‘action goals’ for the mental health care of minority ethnic communities and service users; these include, reduction in fear and seclusion in mental health services.
Race is a contested concept with the difference between race, having its origins in 18th and 19th century colonial assumptions about the differences between white and non-white people. The concept of race is socially constructed and is now embedded in how we identify, understand and think about people. Ethnicity is an alternative concept to race that is more acceptable to groups in society . Ethnicity refers to a sense of identity that is based on shared cultural, religious and traditional factors. Ethnic identities are always changing and evolving. Approaches to cross cultural psychiatry according to Pilgrim (2005) are either orthodox or skeptical. Orthodox definitions of depression state that culture shapes the expression and prevalence of mental disorder. Cultural sensitivity enables GP’s to read symptoms and translate them into an orthodox, western diagnosis. A sceptical reading questions the validity of applying diagnostic labels from Western culture to other cultures. Cultural differences lead to people explaining and experiencing depression in different ways. Imposing western diagnostic categories leads to misinterpreting the person’s mental distress. It is important to be cautious in making cross-cultural comparisons in diagnosing with different illnesses being stigmatized in different cultures, and so expressed differently.
Beck cited in Giddens (2005) felt that depressed peoples thinking is dominated by a triad of negative schema of, ineptness, self-blame and negative evaluation although this doesn’t take into account any social factors that have impacted on the individual. Freud cited in Gross (2005) thought that people were victims of their feelings. That the psycho-analytical theory with fixation in psycho sexual stages and repressed desires feelings are what causes mental illness as the ego is unable to exert control over our feelings and this inability to express may cause anxiety and depression. He took this further with enforcing the belief of intra psychic loss, loss of sense of self, esteem, loss of job or the loss of a major sustaining relationship. Hayes (1998) links Bowlby’s functionalist perspective in his attachment theory being the loss of significant carer and lack of maternal attachment had far reaching effects. Skinner cited in Gross (2005), believed in radical behaviourism and that learning is conditioned and emphasized the role of environmental factors. Seligman (1974) takes a humanistic approach purporting that learned helplessness is a cognitive psychological explanation of depression, where there is learned helplessness and passivity, people become dependant and unable to make decisions for themselves.
Oakley (2005) remarks on the tendency for women to specialize in mental illness and that many more women in Westernized society are classified as having neurotic disorders and women dominate in psychosomatic disorders. A correlation exists in the study of mental illness being higher in men living alone and higher in married women however women are also suffers of post partum depression which is viewed by society through the biomedical viewpoint. Oakley (2005) places this within the self perception and ideals within a male patriarchal culture where women have been, historically, subject to social, economic and psychological discrimination, as have black people. However we are all damaged in some extent, this being a state of humanity; however, connectedness is not possible without the qualities of vulnerability, weakness, helplessness and dependency. A paradox exists in that all these qualities are seen as feminine, and are, not only negatively described, but are also associated with depression. This also links to learned helplessness as a psycho social explanation that women are gendered and stereotyped into this through socialization Weissman et al (1982). Calhoun et al (1974) established data that indicated a trend for females to hold themselves more responsible for unhappy moods than males.
There are a myriad ways of thinking, behaving and experiencing the world through a combination of care and control using medical, psychological, and social support with interventions done to reduce negative factors such as poverty , unemployment racism etc, and promote social inclusion. Research will play a large part as new factors are established as demonstrated in the recently publicized link between teenagers sleep patterns and depression Gangwisch et al. (2008)
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