Socioneuroscience: Improving Health Through Advancing The Understanding Of The Relationships Between The Human Brain And Social Interactions
University of Barcelona, Spain
In “Principles of neural science”, Eric Kandel (2013) stresses the immense power of social experience on the human brain, even affecting our genes, which are, in Kandel’s words, ‘servers of the environment’. Today research in neuroscience is being very fruitful in providing evidence about the influence of social factors in both the architecture and functioning of the brain. Such evidence challenges the idea that the social being builds upon his or her biology. From relevant studies such as Kandel’s, we can see the central role of sociology in neuroscientific research. Without the contributions of interactionist, communicative and dialogic sociology, current neuroscience cannot deeply understand plastic changes in the brain which result from complex social experiences examined by sociology, experiences which can either improve physical and mental health or worsen it in acting as physical and emotional barriers for individuals and groups. For example, how does violence in human relationships affect the brain, and then physical and mental health? And, more importantly, which are the characteristics of social interactions able to weaken neural connections created with the experience of violence, and instead to support the creation of new neural wiring which promotes good health and freedom in the individual and society? These are examples of what socioneuroscience (Puigvert & Flecha, 2018), an emerging branch of sociology, is concerned with. Socioneuroscience studies the relations between the human brain and social interactions, taking into account knowledge from all social sciences and the natural sciences. Such inquiry can aid tackling illness and achieving better health for all.
Reconceptualizing Research on Mental Health, Social Class and Working Life
1Finnish Institute of Occupational Health, Finland; 2University of Kent, UK
Medical and psychological frameworks dominate the scientific understanding of mental health and occupational well-being. To grasp the mental health-related views, experiences and actions of people belonging to different social classes in working life and in cultures undergoing transitions, it is essential that social scientists construct and develop new frameworks for the study of mental health that provide less clinical and more social and functional view of mental health problems in today’s societies. This presentation introduces three concepts that capture the core social and cultural components of mental health problems often missing in the mainstream scientific debates. First, it presents the concept of mental discomfort that includes inadequate or unwanted mental functioning perceived as problematic by individuals themselves and/or others such as work communities. Second, it aims to reformulate the role of workers’ agency in the construction of mental health by introducing the concept of workership. The different forms of workerships are manifested via ideals, expectations, norms and limits attached to the typical forms of being a worker. Social class participates in the construction of workership and has a key role in the formulation of socially relevant reactions and manifestations of mental discomfort. Third, the prism that captures workership is the concept of mental landscape. The mental landscapes of social classes are built in certain working conditions, organizational cultures, status positions, living environments, and institutional and social relationships. They influence the core challenges and action frameworks that characterize workership and the composition of mental health. Through these heuristic tools the presentation intends to craft a new social-class sensitive framework for the understanding of mental functioning in the context of rapidly changing working life and segregating social realities.
Colonial Psychiatry and the Movement for Global Mental Health: A Postcolonial Analysis
University of Auckland, New Zealand
Following recent calls from the Movement for Global Mental Health (MGMH) to ‘scale up’ mental health provision in the Global South (Patel et al. 2007; World Health Organization 2010), this presentation offers a timely socio-historical analysis of such medical expansionism over the past two hundred years. Applying postcolonial theory to the area of mental health, it will be forwarded that the contemporary arguments of the psychiatric professional for the extension of their enterprise are far from new. Instead, through a number of case studies (including those from India, North Africa, and Indonesia), it will be demonstrated that the claims made by the MGMH that there is an ‘epidemic’ of mental illness in the Global South, that western psychiatry has a ‘moral imperative’ to act, and that mental illness is a universal phenomenon with well-established biological markers can all be found in the original ideas of colonial psychiatry. While emphasising the importance of understanding psychiatric ideology (rather than psychiatric practice) in the postcolonial space (Keller 2007; Pols 2006; Vaughan 1991), this presentation will demonstrate three constants over time: namely, a racialization of the populations of the Global South; a medical imperialism which claims a superiority of knowledge on mental distress; and the ability of Western psychiatry to pathologise resistance to imperialism and the expansion of capital.
Personal Perspectives on Service User Involvement – The Narrative and Identity Construction of Experts by Experience Working in Mental Health Services
Tampere University, Finland
Personal narratives provide an important resource for individuals with lived illness experiences, offering a sense of control and an opportunity to re-frame past life events. As service user involvement has become an integral part of many developed health systems, these narratives have also been turned into resources used in the development of public services. Hence, it is not only important to study involvement from conceptual or practical implementation perspectives. The consequences of involvement should also be explored from the perspective of people with lived illness experiences. By analysing the stories of people who currently work as experts by experience within Finnish mental health and substance abuse services (n=13), we study the effects of involvement activities on personal narratives and on the construction of meaningful identities. We argue that involvement has the potential to support the construction of identities that are both temporal and hierarchical. The process begins with the re-discovery of skills, knowledge and self-worth and leads to experts by experience to become professionalised and politicised. The involvement process may also influence the personal stories people tell, enforcing the ‘moving on’ and quest narratives that portray the illness experience as a motivator for social action or change. Additionally, we suggest that the stories experts by experience share with health services and the public are not ‘lay accounts’ or ad hoc tales, but accounts constructed to serve specific purposes.