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Painted Brain | A Sociological Perspective: Roles In Society And Mental Illness
We're bridging communities and changing the conversation about mental illness using arts and media.
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  • admin
  • January 15, 2016

A Sociological Perspective: Roles in Society and Mental Illness

I am Lizzy. I am a daughter, sister, and female. I am a friend, mental health supporter, and worker. I have both ascribed and achieved statuses. I have inherited traits, such as dark, wavy hair, tan skin, and blue eyes. I have a knowledge of literature and computer skills. An ascribed status is one that’s beyond a person’s control. For instance, I cannot control the fact that my hair is dark and my eyes are blue. What I do control is my achieved status. These are acquired on the basis of some special skill, knowledge, or ability. For instance, I was not born with literary or technical proficiency. Instead, I set my sights on learning more about these topics and gained the skills to draw digitally and analyze Shakespearean sonnets.

Mental illness can be a result of pressure, as we all know. We may become depressed and withdrawn if we don’t feel good enough or secure in our own skin. But what is it about pressure that can make the mind crack, if not explode? How can being called an “underachiever” taint the mind? To get the answer, we must turn to human roles and statuses.

A status is a socially-defined position in a group or society, while roles are the rights and obligations expected of someone occupying a particular status. For instance, becoming a wife throws you into the marriage status, while looking your best and cooking meals for your spouse are considered roles. Everyone has multiple roles in society. A man can be a husband, parent, high school or college graduate, and athlete all at the same time. This is where things can become difficult.

Suppose a man or woman has decided to become a professional athlete. He or she wants to be the best on the team, yet doesn’t want to make his or her teammates look bad or inferior. This is called a role strain. This occurs when people have difficulty meeting the role expectations of a single status. This can cause stress, indecisiveness, and self-pressure. When a person experiences one or all of these roadblocks, it can backfire on their perception of themselves or life in general. The different roles attached to a single status can cause contradictory expectations among role sets.

Another downfall of multiple roles is role conflict. This sociological term is very similar to role strain, yet has its own unique properties. Due to its complicated definition, it is easier to understand when given an example. Let’s say that an individual is both a part-time student and part-time worker. This person’s role set requires two very demanding, different tasks. You obviously have to work on assignments for school, and must also maintain a good job performance in order to pay for school. Many find it challenging to remain straight-A students while working, due to fatigue.

Of course, there are also roles that people choose to abandon in order to detach from the negativity of them. Ex-convicts and divorced people choose the path of the role exit. Sociologist Helen Rose Ebaugh called this the “ex-identity.” The three stages of this attempt to redeem oneself are disillusionment, alternation, and departure. A person first feels disappointment as they learn that their first role was not as beneficial as they had imagined. Choosing alternative roles to replace the old ones comes next. Finally, after seeing self-improvement, the person chooses to depart entirely from earlier roles in order to live a more successful life.

Conclusively, roles in society have a big involvement in how we see ourselves and our lives. Putting too much on one’s plate can lead to mental crashes and mishaps, which is why it is important to pace yourself and know when things are becoming too difficult. We must all take measures to protect ourselves psychologically, as the mind is both a precious and sensitive thing.

Elizabeth Chancellor writes about sociological perspectives for Painted Brain News

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