At the heart of Whitaker’s study is a question: Why do people with mental illness in the United States fare less well than people in poorer countries?

Sociology of Mental Health

Essay Questions:


Please respond to THREE of the following questions in essays 1.5 to 2 pages long.

1) In Mad in America, Robert Whitaker argues that the treatment of mental illness is a “prism through which to view a society.” Put another way, he suggests, “Medical treatments for the severely mentally ill inevitably reflect the societal and philosophical values of the day (xv).” For this essay, please compare and contrast the dominant paradigm of mental illness treatment in two historical periods discussed in the book. You should consider: the underlying assumptions about the causes of mental illness; the prevailing treatment(s) of the day; how the mentally ill were regarded; and then describe what this tells us about that particular society at that particular time.

2) At the heart of Whitaker’s study is a question: Why do people with mental illness in the United States fare less well than people in poorer countries? Use Mad in America, as well as the other texts for our class, to address this question. Ask yourself, why might this be the case? What are the social, cultural and economic features of U.S. society that contribute to this situation? You may want to focus on the three or four most significant factors and explain how they all contribute to this situation.

3) Utilizing Karp’s “In Sickness and in Health” and one other reading from Voices from the Inside, compare and contrast caring for a family member with a physical illness to caring for a family member with a mental illness. In what ways are they similar, in what ways are they different? What accounts for the differences? What factors to social perceptions play? Do these differences matter, why or why not? Explain.

4) Karp and Sisson write, “I believe that one of the most important missions of sociology is to give voice…to the experiences of those whose voices and experiences would typically otherwise be blunted, marginalized…or simply ignored. If we want to understand how society works…we need particularly to listen well to the narratives of those who are too often powerless, marginalized, disenfranchised, and stigmatized (p. 4).” What do the narratives presented in Voices From the Inside tell us about how society works? Utilizing at least two selections from the book, please identify and discuss at least two different lessons these narratives tell us about how society works regarding mental health and illness.

In general, the responses will be evaluated as follows:

1) Each response should be written in an essay format (introduction, body and conclusion-writing matters!).

2) Incorporation of specific examples from the relevant texts (you should demonstrate that you have a solid grasp of the material by drawing on the texts to support your claim, argument or analysis). If you pull an exact quote from one of our readings, you must include the author’s last name, year of publication and page number. For example: “As in prisons, the attendants’ main job was to maintain order…” (Whitaker, 2010:69).

3) Completeness of response (be sure to answer all aspects of each question).

4) Each response should be 1-2 pages.

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