You're mad, bonkers, completely off your head. But I'll tell you a secret. All the best people are.
Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland
What we say about mental illness reveals what we value and what we fear.
Juli McGruder
So unbearable is the amount of human pain that we alone among all the animals manifest the remarkable phenomenon of suicide—a deliberate effort of a form of life to stop living because living hurts so much.... [O]ur study of sociology is prefaced by social pathology.... We must know the mechanics of a thing if we are to mend it.
Charlotte Perkins Gilman
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What are the social conditions that give rise to the mental disorders experienced by individuals? How does our social and historical context shape the prevalence of mental disorders within society? What impact does a diagnosis have on an individual's perceptions of self? How does this shape the ways in which others perceive and interact with the person identified with such a diagnosis? What exactly is a mental disorder? Does it even exist, or is it merely a socially constructed system to control deviant behavior? How has this understanding shifted over time and across cultures? And who benefits? Finally, what impact do these shifting definitions have on approaches to treatment?

This course presents a sociological approach to the study of mental disorders, beginning with an examination of social ecology, theories of society and what they imply about the prevalence of mental disorders. From there, we examine the process by which we identify our feelings with particular emotions, how the label of mental disorder changes our perceptions, the career of the mental patient and the impact of stigmatization of those with mental disorders. Finally, we take a critical perspective on mental disorders with special attention to how we socially construct mental illness and diagnostic categories, the medicalization of deviance and social control, the impact of the pharmaceutical industry and how the U.S. has begun to export mental disorders around the world.


Topics Included:
  • Unraveling the Mind: Overview of Mental Illness and Society
  • Social Integration and Mental Illness
  • Structural Strain, Individualization, and the Production of Mental Disorders
  • Social Inequality and Mental Disorders
  • Stress Theory and Coping
  • The 2015 Augsburg Student Health Survey
  • Seminar Discussion: In and Out of Our Right Minds: The Mental Health of African American Women
  • Labeling Theory and the Mental Patient Role
  • The Moral Career of the Mental Patient
  • Mental Illness as a Stigmatized Status
  • Caregiving and the Burden of Sympathy
  • Seminar Discussion: Speaking of Sadness: Depression, Disconnection, and the Meanings of Illness
  • In Our Own Voice—Guest Speakers from NAMI-MN
  • Critical Theories and Postmodern Perspectives
  • The DSM and the Social Construction of Mental Illness
  • Medicalization, Deviance, and Social Control
  • Psychopharmacology and the Epidemic of Mental Illness
  • Mental Illness Across Cultures
  • Seminar Discussion: The Evil Hours: A Biography of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder