The purpose of health care is to provide the sick with succour. Psychological care, however, is more complex than a series of band-aids and boo-boos. What if society itself is, as the Ghostbusters’ script reminds us, “too sick to survive”? (Reitman, online). An unpleasant theory laced with hyperbole, if ever there was. Yet perhaps when we face our psychological condition within these dark times, we and our therapy providers fail to sufficiently address sociological facts. Society is what makes us, just as we make our lives what they are, after all. To this end an AU degree in sociology can help address these concerns.
The diagnosis and treatment of mental health issues is by no means a foregone conclusion in terms of helpers helping the needy or the sick receiving succour. 20th Century guru Jiddu Krishnamurti plainly stated that “it is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society” (online). As a reminder of how that applies to majority opinion—for instance, the notion that individual psychology is the core to understanding one’s life—1950s beat poet, Allen Ginsberg, known for letting his freak flag fly, intoned that “when I hear ‘culture’ I reach for my feather boa” (online). Being marginalized, feeling different, sensing something amiss in the societal jungle that no episode of Sesame Street ever addressed, all this implies a certain external and coercive restriction of our sense of well-being. We were born free but if adulting feels like donning a series of shackles we might recall that a towering figure of the 1700s Enlightenment agreed: “man is born free and yet everywhere we see him in chains’ wrote Jean-Jacques Rousseau (online). Yet, when a psychological diagnosis arrives, we may feel relief and excitement akin to when new AU course material appears on our doorstep.
From an intersection of social reality and individual mind, psychiatric diagnoses unfold and are invariably an intersection of sociological as well as psychological tools. Psychological traumas are all too real and mental health is a necessary component of improved wellness. Yet, we largely learn what’s normal by our culture’s code of conduct. Beginning with the realization that our lives are not only our own; sociology teaches that subjectivity (the sense of ourselves and our roles) arises in a cultural context of socialization into norms and values. The journey of sociology is about uncovering and explaining these previously naturalized assumptions about the world and the way it works. And here, arguably, is where psychology is lacking: its inability to address macro-level realities leaves a gap in patient’s understanding of how society enlarges, inflames, and incites their maladies.
Our mental health is more than just an individual issue; its origins are material and social and far from an occurrence in isolation. There are case studies about people who are told they are abnormal without having the structural circumstances of their historic times likewise explained. AU can allow us to consider our lives in a new light and that includes questioning whether we’ve taken the bait of an individual diagnoses for what, in our lives, is also a symptom of a larger societal malaise. The Oxford dictionary of psychology makes no bones about the fact that ADHD is one of the most popular and prevalent diagnosis during our times of clickbait internet ads and livestreaming current events is. “Despite much public debate, ADHD has been enormously “successful” as a diagnostic category” (Malachrida & Semich, online). Successful sounds like a good thing if people are being treated and feeling better; successful also sounds a bit like an advertising campaign. Perhaps a deeper understanding of the causes of our situation will lead to prolonged healing and personal growth. Here sociology can only help our situation and can function as medicine in the manner of therapy or even what Plato termed a “pharmakon”, a supplement that can help or hinder. A pharmakon can be a remedy if “it is beneficial, and it produces and mends. Others think that it is a poison, because it makes you forget, makes you become distant to the truth, and isolates you from reality” (Law Insider, online). Any medicine or approach gives results depending on us and our interpretations of reality; therapy usually occurs in conjunction with medication, for instance. Sociology may be just the additional palliative as we seek healthier and happier lives.
A Brief Case Study as Reported in the UK’s Guardian Newspaper
While mental health problems are materially and mentally real, they are also historically situated. The anecdote below illustrates how the social construction of psychological ideology begins with the fetishism of being well adjusted to current historical conditions and technologies. Technology’s glorified intrusion through cell phone, WiFi, and urban modernity’s slavish attention to time schedules form, for the respondent, a sense of lost reality hitherto known as daydreaming. What in fact is creativity in feeling becomes pathology in fact under a regime where those who find life difficult are seen as being personally defective. No new thoughts come from staying in the rat maze, yet psychological maladies are almost without exception diagnosed in those who deviate from, rather than think outside, conformity’s confines.
“On a good day, it’s like watching a train whiz past you while you’re trying to read the text on the side and make out faces in the windows. On a bad day, a bird might land in front of you. Curious, you pull out your phone, Google the bird and get stuck in a “pigeons of the world” vortex. You discover cassowary eggs are bright green and in 2005, UK police found a leg of swan in the Queen’s Master of Music’s freezer. Two terrine recipes later, the train has long passed and night has fallen. Dazed, you sink under a dark cloud of self-loathing, lamenting another lost day. You don’t remember what kind of bird it was” (Faulkner, online).
ADHD can be harmful to lives and is serious, for sure. Nevertheless, applying a sociological approach and mind to this case study raises a few pertinent questions. Like wait, a good or best-possible day is to be at peace with accommodating this monolith roaring past and through your consciousness? And a bad day is becoming absorbed in the wonders of learning? Sure, we all have proverbial trains to catch in our daily grind, and missing one is not a good sign for success or our self-esteem. But knowing that it’s not in itself bad to be engrossed in something more interesting than the adverts on a train can only be helpful. In historical perspective, a couple of generations ago or to this day in a rural setting, you might not have to cope with trains, TikTok, or so many distractions in general. Colonialism research notes that, with the arrival of trains and Imperial power, oppressed people created an illusory difference based on traditional versus modern sense of time and its management; “to materially de-stabilize a narrative of colonial time-lag” (Prasad, online).
Who knows how you would feel or be interpreted in another social circumstance. We Homo sapiens are not wired to contend with modern hustle and bustle; we evolved (or were created) to forage and explore, not to stick with an industrial schedule. It’s for this reason that pejorative terms like Homo economicus, Homo sovieticus and, my personal favourite, and own invention, Homo middleclassicus, were invented! For all these reasons it might be worth reframing why a bad day entails becoming lost in curiosity and inquiry and learning something of interest at the expense of becoming embroiled in a whizzing nihilistic abyss.
That the example’s respondent in question is portrayed as stuck in a vortex of their own creation belies the encompassing fact that an omnipresent Grandpa Google has snaggled its way into pockets and purses and the seat of our consciousnesses. That’s a psychological fact that’s as sociological as they come. A pill a day may help someone cope but the list of troubles shows that they are also external in nature; if the respondent’s life was drastically different they might still struggle, and there the value of a diagnosis would be clear. But sometimes, just maybe, the problem is modernity itself and how we are expected to cope with alienating and stultifying conditions.
No wonder teenagers become disenchanted! (Here I recall the 90s band Green Day, now I am told categorized on iPods under the category of oldies, who sang “my Mother says to get a job but she don’t like the one she’s got” (online). Insanity, let us not forget, is characterized by repeatedly embarking on the same ventured failures. (Psychologists term this the compulsion to repeat). Talk about things that make you go “hmm!” Sociology courses at AU can provide new perspectives on psychological reality, including one’s lack of comfort with reality itself, and that’s education for life skills if ever there was.