Mental illness and Suicide

Douglas: the meaning of suicide

He argues that to understand suicide, we must discover its meaning for the deceased. He rejects the use of official suicide statistics as they are a social construct that tell us about the labels applied by coroners. To discover the deceased meanings, we must analyse suicide notes or do unstructured interviews with the deceased relatives. However, there is no reason to suppose that the sociologist’s interpretation of the deceased meanings will be any truer than the official statistics.

Atkinson: Coroners; common-sense knowledge

He focuses on how coroners use taken for granted assumptions to construct social reality. He found that their ideas about a typical suicide affected their verdict; e.g. they saw certain modes of death, locations and circumstances of death and life histories as typical of suicides. Labelling certain kinds of deaths as suicides wells the official statistics and reinforces the coroner’s original assumptions, creating a SFP.

Mental illness

Interactionists reject the use of OS on mental illness as social constructs- just a record of the activities of doctors with the power to attach labels.

Paranoia as a SFP: interactionists are interested in how a person comes to be labelled as mentally ill and in the effect of this labelling. Lemert shows how socially awkward individuals may be labelled and excluded from groups. The individual’s negative responses give the group reason to fear from his mental health which will lead to a medical label of paranoia, this then becomes his master status.

Institutionalisation: Goffman shows the possible effects of being admitted to a ‘total institution’ such as a psychiatric hospital. Patients undergo a ‘mortification of the self’ in which their old identity is ‘killed off’ and replace by a new one (inmate). This is achieved by degradation rituals e.g. confiscation of personal effects. However, Goffman also shows the process is not deterministic. Some inmates resit being institutionalised.

TOPIC 3 Class Power and Crime