Posted October 10, 2018 05:02:15 The social control model of mental health is not only a popular theory for how mental health problems are managed, it has been the subject of numerous empirical studies.
Yet it remains largely unknown outside of the social justice sphere, where it has received little attention.
But a new article by psychologists at the University of Victoria sheds new light on the subject, by exploring the social control of mental illness through the lens of social control theories.
“Social control theory is the latest model of how people are managed,” says social work professor James Grosch, who co-authored the study with professor and research fellow Elizabeth A. Stansfield.
“It’s based on the premise that people have control over their lives, and it involves some kind of control over how they interact with others.”
Grosach, a member of the Faculty of Social Sciences and Humanities at the university, says that despite the research, the field of social psychology has been largely neglected, and research into the mental health of people in our society is generally neglected.
“There’s an awful lot of research on how mental illness is managed, but it’s often conducted in isolation,” he says.
“People have difficulty coming to grips with mental health, because they don’t see it as part of the normal functioning of society.”
The new study, published in the journal Social Psychology Quarterly, used a new approach to analyze data from the National Survey on Health and Development, a survey of about 1,000 Canadians aged 18 and over conducted between 2008 and 2017.
The survey found that while mental illness has its own distinctive set of characteristics, its prevalence has been growing.
Roughly two-thirds of people surveyed (67 per cent) have seen a mental health professional within the past year.
That’s up from 63 per cent in 2009, according to a recent survey from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation.
And among those who have seen the doctor, more than half (57 per cent), said they felt anxious, depressed or hopeless about their mental health.
These are not unusual findings for the population, according the study authors.
But the findings also highlight the importance of looking at how mental disorders are treated.
The authors argue that the social model is particularly useful for studying mental health because it includes such social factors as how people interact with the public, their environment, family, and community.
They point to the example of social isolation, which has been linked to an increased risk of developing depression, anxiety and substance abuse.
“We have to think of it as a social condition,” says Stansland, who also directs the Centre for Applied Social Psychology at the Université du Québec à Montréal.
“Because people who are lonely, isolated and depressed are also more likely to experience mental health issues.”
Stanslands and Grosche are particularly interested in the way mental health care is often controlled.
“One of the key problems in our system right now is that people feel that they’re not part of society, so they’re unable to access health care,” says Groscher.
“The idea is that they can’t help themselves.
They can’t find a psychiatrist who can give them a referral.”
A common explanation for the low rate of mental disorders in the general population, the researchers argue, is the idea that it is not socially acceptable to report mental health concerns to the mental healthcare system.
“Many people don’t feel that their problems are socially unacceptable,” says professor Stansfields.
“But if they do, they’re often not diagnosed and they get stuck in a cycle of waiting for a referral, and this is not a good way to address their problem.”
To explore this issue further, the authors turned to another social model, the theory of social influence.
“This is an attempt to make the link between the mental illness and the social environment, and the way people behave,” says Dr. Daniel M. Littrell, professor of social psychiatry at the Centre de Recherches en Sociologie de Montreal and co-author of the new paper.
“So, the way you interact with people, what you say, how you interact socially, the ways you interact on social media, are all important aspects of social change.”
Littrol points out that the research demonstrates that there is a strong relationship between mental illness prevalence and social control.
“As you look at a broader set of factors, like poverty and inequality, the relationship between the two becomes stronger,” he explains.
“If we can identify some of these things, we can look at ways to address social change and help people with mental illness.”
A social control framework to help treat mental illness, as well as prevent the development of mental illnesses in the first place, is something that social work practitioners can benefit from, says Gertjan Zellner, associate professor of clinical social work at the Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia.
“I think there is still a lot of work to