Although the 19th century expansion of asylums in Europe and The United States was a movement initially based on moral principles, it led to significant negative implications for individuals, who were institutionalized as asylums became overcrowded, lacking hygiene, neglectful of patients and an overall place for poor living conditions (Wright, 1997). The rise in in-patient population in the early 19th century and patients’ inabilities to reintegrate into the community as a result of institutionalization have often been explained in terms of the mental health system and developments in psychology at the time. Sociologists on the other hand, have argued that these institutions have caused people to remain institutionalized. A compelling theory that explains this historical phenomenon is labeling theory. Labeling theory proposes that deviance in not only a result of the actions and behavior of the individual, but is also a product of the society that defines deviance (Brym, Lie, Retina, 2007). When applied to mental illness, the theory states that when an individual is labeled as mentally ill, “the negative cultural conceptions of mental illness become personally relevant, which then damages self-feelings” (Kroska & Harkness, 2008). This suggests the negative effects of institutionalizing individuals suffering from mental illness. In particular, that labeling individuals as mentally ill causes them to adopt that label as part of their identity and acting in accordance with that label. Support for this argument is evident in media portrayals of the mental asylum such as in the film One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest starring Jack Nicholson, as well as in empirical studies.”
The theme of labeling is a recurrent theme in the film One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. This film challenges the notion of mental illness, and it’s existence in the characters of the film. Several scenes in the film are suggestive that the patients in the psychiatric ward define themselves as...
References: Brym, R.J., & Lie, J., & Rytina, S. (2010) Deviance and Crime. Sociology: Your Compass for a New World. 3rd Canadian Edition. Toronto: Oxford University Press. Toronto: Nelson
Kroska, A. Harkness, S.K. (2008). Exploring the role of diagnosis in the modified labeling theory of mental illness. Social Psychology Quarterly, 71, 193-208
Wright, D. (1997). Getting out of the asylum: understanding the confinement of the insane in the nineteenth century. Social History of Medicine, 10, 137–55.
Zaentz, S., & Douglas, M. (Producers), & Forman, M. (Director). (1975). One flew over the cuckoo’s nest [Motion Picture]. United States: Fantasy Films.
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