22 | Health: Part 3

The third chapter in this series looks at the social construction of mental illness and disability in terms of how definitions and meanings have changed over time and between cultures.

In terms of definitions the chapter examines three basic models of mental illness the Biomedical, Psychological and Sociological (a distinction you can explore further through this short article that argues it is “unhelpful to see mental health issues as illnesses with biological causes.”.)

In terms of meanings, this involves outlining and evaluating two broad approaches to mental illness – Structural and Interactionist – that seek to explain trends in mental illness based on categories of class, gender and ethnicity.

In relation to disability this means understanding how different societies interpret the meaning of physical and mental impairments, discussed in terms of two broad interpretive models – the individual or medical and the social model.


A further dimension here is the idea of mental illness and disability as deviance. In t respect, even if you don’t teach or study Health, the chapter contains a range of examples of non-criminal deviance.

The section dealing with Szasz’s (1961) arguments about “the myth of mental illness” may also contribute to an understanding of Interactionist approaches to crime and deviance and the idea that concepts of deviance (such as mental illness) are socially constructed across time and space.

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