Race, Class, Gender, and Mental Disorders Sociology Help

Race, Class, Gender, and Mental Disorders

Most studies examining race/ethnicity and mental disorders have compared African Americans and white Americans and have uncovered no significant differences in diagnosable mental illness. However, researchers have found that African Americans report psychological distress or demoralization more often than white Americans do. III a qualitative study about the effects of racism on the everyday lives of middleclass African Americans, social scientists Joe R. Feagin and Melvin P. Sikes (1994) concluded that repeated personal encounters with racial hostility deeply affect the psychological well-being of most African Americans, regardless of their level of education or social class. In a subsequent study, Feagin and Hernan Ver-a (1995) found that white Americans also pay a high "psychic cost" for the prevalence of racism because it contradicts deeply held beliefs about the great
American dream of equality under the law. In earlier work on the effects of discrimination on mental wellbeing. the social psychologist Thomas Pettigrew (1981) suggested that about 15 percent of whites have such high levels of racial prejudice that they tend to exhibit symptoms of serious mental illness. According to Pettigrew. racism in all its forms constitutes a mentally unhealthy situation in which people do not achieve their full potential. A limited number of social science studies have focused on mental disorders among racial-ethnic groups such as Mexican immigrants and Mexican Americans, and some of these studies have yielded contradictory .results, Researchers in one study found that strong extended (intergenerational) families-which are emphasized in Mexican culture-s-provide individuals with social support and sources of self-esteem, even if these individuals possess low levels of education and income: (Mirowsky and Ross, 1980). Other analysts have challenged this assumption, noting that retention of Mexican culture, as compared to adopted Anglo culture, Is not the primary consideration in whether
or not Mexican Americans develop mental disorders (Burnham et 011., 1987). Although cultural factors may be important in deterining rates of mental disorders, researchers have consistently agreed that social class has a significant effect on this issue. For example, one study examining the relationship among mental disorders, race, and class (as measured by socioeconomic status} found that rates of mental disorders decrease as social class increases for both white Americans and African Americans. For example. at the lowest socioeconomic level, researchers
found few race differences (Williams, Takeuchi, and Adair. 1992). Despite agreement among many researchcrs about the teJatio~ship between class and mental disorders, not all of them agree on whether lower social class status causes mental illness or mental illness causes lower social class position (Weit7.• 2004). Analysts using the 5ocJ.ll stress framewotk to examine schizophrenia- the disorder most consistently linked to class-believe that stresses associated with lower-class life lead to greater mental disorders. In contrast, analysts using the social drift framework argue that mental disorders cause people to drift downward in class position. To support their argument. they note that individuals diagnosed with schizophrenia typically hold lower-class jobs than would be expected based on their family backgrounds (Eaton, 1980; Weitz, 2(04). , Researchers have also consistently fou nd that : rate of diagnosable depression is about twice as high for women as for men. This gender difference typically emerges in puberty (Cleary. 1987) and increases in adulthood 115 women and mcn enter and live out their unequal adult statuses (Mirowsky. 1996). Howerver, researchers have found no conslstent relationship between gender and the rate of schizophrenia or other serious mental disorders in which the individual loses touch with reality. Although women have higher rates .of minor depression and other disorders that cause psychological distress, men have higher rates of personality disorders such as compulsive gambling and drinking, as well as maladaptive personality traits such as antisocial behavior (Lin~ and Downtrend, 1989; Weitz, :!004). Some analysts suggest that differences in mental disorders between women and men are linked to
gender-role socialization that instills aggressiveness in men and learned helplessness in women. According to .

the learned helplessness theory, people become depressed when the)' believe they cannot control their lives (Seligman, 1975). Embedded within this theory is the assumption that women contribute to their own helplessness because of the subjective perception that they have no control over their lives. However, feminist analysts argue instead that powerlessness is an objective condition that may contribute to depression in many women's lives (Jack, 1993). Support for the latter assumption com •.s• from numerous sn1'!lies indicating that women in high-income, high-status jobs typically have higher levels of psychological well-being and fewer symptoms of mental disorders, regardless of their marital status (Horowitz, 1982; Angel and Angel. 1993). Although there have been numerous studies about
women with mild depression. women with serious Jll{!!tal illnesses have almost been ignored (Mowbray, Herman. aJ1<i~I, 1992). Similarly. women's mental disorders have often been misdiagnosed, and on many occasions physical illnesses have been confused with psychiatric problems (see Burfield, 1996; Lerman,
1996; Klonoff, 1997). According to some analysts. additional studies focusing on women's diversity across lines of race. class. age. religion. sexual orientation. and other factors will be necessary before we can accurately assess the relationship between gender and mental illness and how women are treated in the mental health care industry (GOltz, 1995).

Posted on September 8, 2014 in HEALTH CARE AND DISABILITY

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