Mental illness is a reality of daily life and it affects everyone, either directly or indirectly. We all have a hand in its creation, determination of who ultimately develops it and as a result has to live with its consequences. This makes it important for us recognize the roles we play as a part of this reality. A step to better comprehending our roles is to understand the relationship that exists between the social factors that shape our lives and mental illness. The focus of this paper is to examine the relationship between social factors and mental illness. This relationship will be explored by looking at how social factors contribute to mental illness, what effect they have on mental illness and what consequences mental illness poses to social factors.
When examining the etiology of mental illness one must look at many domains of knowledge as there is not one single causal factor involved. Historically, the areas of genetics, neuroscience, pharmacology and psychology have dominated the field but sociology is also a vital area that should not be overlooked. Recent significant advances in the sciences, the power that doctors hold in the field and the attractiveness of physical explanations are all reasons for this dominion. However, social factors and processes are also important if not crucial to the understanding of mental illness (Busfield, 2000). Not only is the body a biological phenomenon but it is also a social product (Seymour, 1998, as cited in Mulvany, 2000). Therefore, one can deduce that mental disorders are a product of both genetics and environment (Busfield, 2000).
There are many social factors that contribute to an individual's mental health. Factors like education, social environment (Wheaton, 2001), social relationships, family, peers, the public (Markowitz, 2001) and socioeconomic status (Miech, Caspi, Moffitt, Wright, & Silva, 1999; Busfield, 2000). Each social factor has an influence on how one lives and interacts with the world around them.