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Sociological approaches regard mental health and illness as aspects of social circumstances. One type of sociological study examines the sorts of social conditions that influence levels of mental health and illness such as negative life events, ongoing stressful circumstances, demanding social roles, levels of social support, and the strength of cultural systems of meaning. Another type of study focuses on how social and cultural influences shape the definitions of and responses to mental health problems. These kinds of studies show how key recent trends including the medicalization of a growing number of conditions, the increased use of prescription drugs to deal with mental health problems, and a greater willingness to identify emotional suffering as mental illnesses that require professional help, are transforming how modern societies deal with psychological problems. The sociological study of mental health and illness is both distinct from and complementary to more individualistic psychological and biological approaches to these topics. What would be an example of the difference between how a sociologist and a psychiatrist might view someone's mental health problems? What are the advantages and disadvantages of each approach? Some people think that using prescription drugs for mental health problems is a helpful way of responding to suffering while others emphasize the dangers involved in growing rates of prescription drug use. Which view do you think is best supported?
Why do some people seem to be always cheerful while others are often sad? Most of us believe that our moods have to do with aspects of our personalities that make us more or less depressed, anxious, or exuberant. Others might think that temperaments result from biological factors such as our genes and neurochemicals. People usually also assume that therapies that change their states of mind are the natural response to mental problems. These treatments might involve psychotherapies that modify the way people view the world or drugs that alter their brain chemistry. Typical approaches to the nature, causes, and cures of various states of mind emphasize individual traits, temperaments, and behaviors.
Sociological approaches to psychological well-being are fundamentally different. Unlike psychological and biological perspectives that look at personal qualities and brain characteristics, sociologists focus on the impact of social circumstances on mental health and illness.