The various chapters in this edition of the Handbook make it very clear that the sociology of mental health is a vibrant field of research that encompasses a wide range of sociological issues and employs a range of different methodologies and analytic strategies. As the corpus of research in the sociology of mental health grows, it appears that certain broad themes or content areas have become prominent. What is somewhat surprising to me is the relative separation of these thematic areas from one another.
This brings to mind a novel that is well known in my country, Canada. In 1945, the Canadian novelist Hugh MacLennan wrote The Two Solitudes, a story about a young man struggling to reconcile his English and French Canadian identities. The term, “two solitudes” or “les deux solitudes,” became a well-known phrase throughout the 1960s and through the 1980s in Canada to describe the cultural and political separation between Anglo Canada and Quebec. There is a constant ebb and flow to the gulf between Anglophone and Francophone Canada, not just in terms of language and modern culture, but also in terms of ideas, norms, and values.
In the sociology of mental health, I think we have solitudes, at least three of them, in need of reconciliation. These are represented by areas of research in our field that have grown dramatically since the 1970s and that have generated a wealth of sociological knowledge about mental health and illness:
(1) the stress process in life course perspective
(3) the social organization of mental health services
The stress process model (Pearlin, Lieberman, Menaghan, & Mullan, 1981) is arguably the most dominant research paradigm in the sociology of mental health for understanding how individuals' locations in the social structure of society have consequences for their mental health. Over the past thirty-five years, this paradigm has been modified and extended (Pearlin, 1989, 1998; Pearlin & Bierman, 2013). It has also been revised to incorporate life course dimensions (Pearlin & Skaff, 1996; Pearlin, Schieman, Fazio, & Meersman, 2005).
The central focus of the stress process model is to understand how the structure of social life exposes us to more or less stress which translates into symptoms of mental health problems. It also reveals how social support and various psychosocial resources mediate and/or moderate this process.