Medical sociology and the study of severe mental illness: reflections on past accomplishments and directions for future research.

J. A. Cook, E. R. Wright

    Research output: Contribution to journalReview article

    45 Scopus citations


    Over the past 40 years, the mental health care system has been radically transformed from one focused on institutionalized care to one centered on treatment in community settings. While medical sociology has played a prominent role in the study of psychiatric hospitalization and the deinstitutionalization process, the systematic exploration of the sociological dimensions of community-based mental health care is only just beginning. This essay reflects on past disciplinary contributions and explores some important empirical and theoretical directions in the field of mental illness research that could benefit from more extensive sociological analysis. The central argument is that the shift to a community-based mental health system has increased the need for the sociological perspective and that medical sociologists, in particular, have the theoretical and analytical perspective essential for developing a more complete understanding of the current conditions impacting the lives of people with severe mental disorders. Drawing on recent work in medical sociology, we illustrate some important topical areas at the center of controversies over treatment, social change, and public policy regarding severe mental illness. We conclude with a discussion of the barriers to this type of sociological research and suggestions for ways medical sociologists might contribute to the study of severe mental disorders in the future.

    Original languageEnglish (US)
    Pages (from-to)95-114
    Number of pages20
    JournalJournal of health and social behavior
    VolumeSpec No
    StatePublished - Jan 1 1995


    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Social Psychology
    • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health

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