Social Problems

Topics: Sociology, Mental disorder, Psychiatry Pages: 7 (2510 words) Published: December 6, 2006
Student ID No. 10133166

Choose one ‘social problem' and consider society's response to that social problem.

In this essay I am going to attempt to define the term ‘social problem' and what it might mean in today's western society. The essay will then provide an overview of what mental illness might be and mean to the sufferer. In an effort to further understand why mental illness might be considered a social problem, the use of ‘language' will be discussed in the context of how in the past and the present it is used to depict and describe mental illness and its sufferers. These ideas will be further considered when we discuss the role of the media in relation to the public's perception and attitude towards the mental illness and the sufferer.

Sociologists usually consider a social problem to be an "alleged situation that is incompatible with the values of a significant number of people who agree that action is needed to alter the situation" (Rubington et al, 1995 p4). The term ‘social problem' is generic and can be applied to a range of conditions and anomalous behaviours which are held to be manifestations of social disorganisation and to warrant changing via some means of social engineering. Typically these problems include forms of deviant behaviour, such as crime, juvenile delinquency, prostitution, mental illness, drug addiction, and suicide, and of social conflict, ethnic tension, domestic violence and industrial discord (Social Problems in Brayford, 2006). According to Rubington (et al, 1995, p3) most social problems arise in the course of, or as a result of, social relations. It would be wise to acknowledge that ‘social problems' relative to social relations are in a constant state of flux due to the ever changing design of society. Therefore, what comes to be considered a social problem and the values that are involved is an extremely complex matter (Rubington, et al, 1995, p5). When we think about social problems deriving from social relations, we have to consider the fact that human-beings are diverse and complex creatures. This is especially true within the western world where we live within exceptionally multi-faceted social systems that consist of a myriad of cultures, religions, ethnic origins and different ideas of a social identity. However, what is interesting is that although there seems to be an overwhelming number of definitions that endeavour to encapsulate the meaning of the whole of the term ‘social problem', it is almost as difficult to identify what a ‘social problem' is, as the ‘problem', as identified by society, continues to change over time.

According to Fuller and Myers (cited in Becker, 1966, p2), every ‘social problem' consists of an objective condition and a subjective definition. An objective example of this could be the increasing number of teenage pregnancies in Great Britain observed by statistics produced by the government. The subjective definition in relation to this objective example used is the fear of moral decline and the threat to family cohesiveness and family values. The subjective definition is awareness, in this example, that cherished values are under threat (Becker, 1966, p2). Moreover, when we consider different social systems, they may both share the same objective condition but the subjective definitions may be limited to only one of the two social systems. Therefore, this demonstrates, at a very basic level, that ‘social problems' are what people think they are at any given time within different social systems and although we may be able to attach definitions to the term ‘social problem' we will constantly be observing change in what is considered a social problem.

In the next section of this essay I am going to provide an overview of what might be a considered meaning of mental illness....
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