As you may have heard, Catherine Zeta-Jones recently checked herself into a facility to deal with her bi-polar II disorder. Our society has a hard time dealing with these kinds of things. Mental illness effects countless people (not just celebrities), some of whom I’m sure you interact with everyday, yet our culture doesn’t really teach us how to properly respond to people with mental illness.
It’s wonderful that Zeta-Jones is being open and honest about her struggles, as it opens up an opportunity for us to engage in a discussion on the stigma that still heavily surrounds mental illness and the people it effects, and hopefully to break some of the taboo of the topic. There are many misconceptions about mental illness in society, and by putting a famous face to bi-polar disorder, Zeta-Jones can help to fight some of those misconceptions. All this talk of mental illness and stigma reminds me of a book I read in my social psychology class, aptly titled Stigma. So here’s the pick of the week:
Goffman, a staple in social psychology college classrooms, is one of the most well respected theorists on symbolic interaction (a sociological perspective that focuses on how people interact in social situations by creating meaning within those interactions. Basically, people act certain ways in certain situations depending on how they define the situation that they’re in.) In this vein, Goffman also wrote an entire book about how stigmatized people interact with other’s in society, particularly “normals.” I don’t know if I can explain the book any better than what’s on the back cover:
“Stigma is an illuminating excursion into the situation of persons who are unable to conform to standards that society calls normal. Disqualified from full social acceptance, they are stigmatized individuals. Physically deformed people, ex-mental patients, drug addicts, prostitutes, or those ostracized for other reasons must constantly strive to adjust to their precarious social identities. Their image of themselves must daily confront and be affronted by the image which others reflect back to them…[Goffman] explores the variety of strategies stigmatized individuals employ to deal with the rejection of others, and the complex sorts of information about themselves they project.”
This book is a quick read, and is one of the most interesting books I read as a Sociology undergraduate. If you’re interested in learning more about how stigmatized people navigate social interactions, I suggest you pick up a copy of Stigma.
for more information on this topic, here are some good sites: