Research in Mental Health: Social Etiology Versus Social Consequences

Department of Community Health Sciences, Box 951772, 650 Young Drive South, University of California, Los Angeles, Los Angeles, CA 90095-1772, USA.
Journal of Health and Social Behavior (Impact Factor: 2.72). 10/2005; 46(3):221-8. DOI: 10.1177/002214650504600301
Source: PubMed


This article differentiates a social etiology model focused on identifying the social antecedents of one particular mental disorder from a social consequences model concerned with the overall mental health consequences of various social arrangements. In the social etiology model, people with disorders other than the one particular disorder singled out for investigation are implicitly classified as "well." This disorder-specific model is inappropriate for the more general sociological task of identifying the consequences of various social arrangements, such as concentrated poverty, racial segregation, and gender stratification. It is problematic because these consequences are typically nonspecific, not limited to one particular disorder. From this perspective, persons classified as "well" in the disorder-specific model who have a different disorder are misclassified. Consequently, the impact of social arrangements is underestimated, and estimates of causal effects are biased. To address these problems, the full range of theoretically derived mental health outcomes needs to be simultaneously analyzed.

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    • "A sociological approach to mental health encourages attention to both internalizing and externalizing mental health outcomes. Because the intention of the sociological study of mental health is to understand the consequences of social conditions, a focus on only one type of outcome fails to appropriately delimit the contours of the ramifications of these social conditions (Aneshensel 2005). In some cases, this is important because the consequences of stressors may differ across internalizing and externalizing outcomes (e.g., Bierman 2012). "
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    • "Although diagnostic mental health measures, including major depression, were measured in the MTO protocols, very low prevalence severely limited power. Effects of social context may also be nonspecific, to affect more than one disorder, so using dimensional measures of symptomatology may be helpful for population or community assessment (Aneshensel, 2005; McMahon et al., 2003). "
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    • "Most likely, marital status did not moderate the relationship between functional limitations and anger because once time-stable confounds were holistically taken into account, limitations were not significantly related to anger. That marital status moderated this relationship for depression but not anger underscores the importance of considering multiple outcomes when examining how social arrangements shape mental health (Aneshensel 2005). A study focusing only on depression would have presented a more robust depiction of both the mental health consequences of physical limitations and the moderating capabilities of marital status than is actually the case. "
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