The functionalist view on health and illness comes from the work of Talcott Parsons. In line with the functionalist approach to society, he added that for society for function properly all of its members need to be healthy. Talcott Parsons said that illness was a form of deviance, and the members of society who where ill performed the sick role in society. Parsons said that is people in society declared themselves as ill then they developed new specific rights. They became exempt from certain social obligations such as going to school or attending work, and they had the right to be cared for. Parsons saw it as the role of the family to care for family members who were sick. Parsons also said that the people who were playing the sick role had personal responsibilities as well. This included them taking all the reasonable steps to help themselves get better so they are able to resume their usual role within society, and they must also co-operate with medical professionals which are helping them get better. Functionalists believe that illness have a knock on effect to society. They believe that the ill need to be cared for swiftly to ensure that society continues to run smoothly.
Under the Marxist approach they believe that health and illness serve the interests of the more powerful and more dominant social classes, rather than the lower classes in society. In the Marxist approach they see doctors as people who ensure that the working class get back to work as soon as possible, acting in the interests of the employers rather than in the interests of their patients. The job of the doctors under the Marxist approach is to provide the company owners with a workforce which is healthy and fit for work. As well as this the Marxist approach recognises that the government allows profits to me made from products that cause ill health such as cigarettes and alcohol, and that firms continue to produce products which will pollute our atmosphere such as cars, which produce toxic chemicals into society.
The Marxists see illness as something which is related to social class. They recognise that there is a higher rate of illness and reduced life expectancy in areas where there is high unemployment, poverty and pollution of the environment.
The interactionist approach to health and illness is the one which is seen and spending the most time and attention of the issues. They recognise that the in people with the same illness, they might regard themselves as seriously ill or not ill at all as every person sees illness differently. The interactionist approach also looks at the consultations and decisions made between patients and doctors, such as whether they agree on the severity on the illness including things such as whether the patient should be signed off work or not. They also look at whether being labelled as ill will impact on the individuals relationships and self image.
Instead of focusing on the structure of society when looking at illness, interactionists instead looks at the relationships between people and their family and friends as well as their links with professional people and the services which they provide. However critics of the interactionist approach state that by just focusing on the relationships between people they do not recognise the real causes of ill health such as medical explanations and causes of illness such as poverty.
The feminist approach
The feminist approach concentrates their study of health and illness on the dominance of males in the healthcare professions and how it has impacted on women. One of their main focuses has been on how pregnancy is often looked upon as medical issues, rather than the natural process which is actually is. They also argue and question as to why there has no been much research and development into the contraceptive pill, which people argue has fewer side effects than the female contraceptive pill. Feminists see that the exploitation of the women's position in society, that is the reason that why higher numbers of women suffer from mental health issues, anxiety issues and depression. However as these illnesses are classed are medical problems, they are treated with medicine and this, according to feminists overlooks the cause and does not pay any attention to the fact that the daily stress women endure could be the cause of the illness. Lesley Doyle is a feminist and in 1995 she highlighted the fact that women often work a 'double shift.' This is that they often have full time jobs, aswell as the job of looking after and caring for their families and homes.
Concepts of health
Sociologists have different views on agreeing the definition of what being healthy is. Health can be described in both negative and positive ways, one negative way of describing health is being in 'the absence of disease.' But it can also be described in a positive way, they World Health Organisation classed health as 'not merely an absence of disease, but a state of complete physical, mental, spiritual and social well-being.'
The negative description of health tends to be opposed to, and the positive is often looked open more openly. In health and social care, the health care professionals tend to look up providing care and support and addressing the needs of the individual as a whole, rather than just concentrating on the single illness or problems which are being described. People with multiple illnesses may be treated by a range of professionals such as doctors, social workers, community nurses and occupational therapists. Each of these professionals will have different roles and responsibilities to play in the care of these patients, however they will also carry out holistic assessments to ensure they are recognising the wider needs of the patient when providing the care of their specialist sector. Holistic assessments is a particular approach to health care that ensures the individuals needs are addressed, including physical, social, emotional and spiritual health to make sure the needs of the whole person are met.
In 1990 Mildred Blaxter carried out a study on around 10,000 people. This was a study of health and lifestyles. From this study Blaxter was able to identify three parts to individual understanding of health and well being. These included a positive definition of health and well-being, a negative definition of health and being free of pain, and a functional definition of health and well-being in the respect of being able to carry out certain day to day tasks.
In sociology the focus is normally based around ill health, rather than being family. They often look at death rates, attendance at GP surgeries, quantity of serious diseases and statistics of suicides. This is because these statistics can be measured more easily, whereas the measurement of the positive indicators of health and well-being.