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Social Sci LibreTexts

9.5C: Mental Health

Different classes have different levels of access to treatment and encounter different mental health stressors.

 

LEARNING OBJECTIVES

 

Define mental health and explain why it is regarded as a socially constructed concept

 

KEY TAKEAWAYS

Key Points

 

  • Mental health describes a person’s level of psychological well-being, or the presence/absence of mental disorder. Mental health can include one’s ability to enjoy life and demonstrate psychological resilience.
  • Mental health is socially constructed and defined; it is determined by both scientific and cultural knowledge, and it is understood differently by various groups, institutions, and professions.
  • The evaluation of which mental states can be considered healthy and which require medical intervention also varies by class.

 

Key Terms

 

  • mental disorder: A psychological pattern, potentially reflected in behavior, generally associated with distress or disability, not considered part of normal development in a person’s culture.
  • mental health: Emotional well-being, especially with reference to outlook on life, ability to cope with stress, or the absence of a mental disorder.

Mental health describes a level of psychological well-being or the presence/absence of a mental disorder. From the perspective of “positive psychology” or “holism,” mental health may include an individual’s ability to enjoy life and to demonstrate psychological resilience when confronted with challenges. The World Health Organization defines mental health as “a state of well-being in which the individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community. ”

What counts as healthy enjoyment and resilience depends upon one’s class perspective. Members of different classes encounter different stressors—lower class people likely face more financial stress as it pertains to day-to-day sustenance and well-being, while upper class people might experience stress from the intense social pressures associated with elite circles. The evaluation of which mental states can be considered healthy and which require medical intervention also varies by class.

Mental health is a socially constructed and socially defined concept; different societies, groups, cultures, institutions, and professions have very different ways of conceptualizing its nature and causes, determining what is mentally healthy, and deciding what interventions are appropriate. Definitions of mental health depend on cultural understandings in addition to biological and neurological findings. Members of different social classes often hold different views on mental health. Similarly, different social classes have different levels of access to mental health interventions and to information about mental health. Thus, the diagnosis and treatment of mental disorders varies widely by social class.

image

 

Mental Disorders (1837): To say that mental health is socially constructed means that its definition and criteria can change across time and culture. This lithograph illustrates the eight mental health disorders that were thought to be prominent in England during the early-19th century: dementia, megalomania, acute mania, melancholia, idiocy, hallucination, erotic mania, and paralysis. Since 1837, many of those disorders have been erased from medical textbooks or modified in light of changing social norms.