Critical Psychology Teaching Materials

Perceptions of Mental Illness

Phil Brown

Brown University

Spring 1998
Sociology 125


Professor Phil Brown
Office Hours: Monday 2-3 and Wednesday 10-11
Maxcy Hall Room 201
Phone 863-2633
Teaching Assistant: Modhurima Dasgupta

Mental illness is a basic part of social life, and afflicts many people. Estimates of schizophrenia in the population range from 0.6% to 3%, about 0.3% for affective psychosis, between 8.0% and 15.0% for neurosis, and about 7% for personality disorder. The total of these conditions ranges from 16% to 25% prevalence in the U.S. population.

Public attention has always been important in mental illness. State mental health care is one of the costliest items in any state budget, and frequently a major political issue as well. Federal mental health programs beginning in the 1960s have created entirely new forms of treatment and location of care. Most recently the fate of discharged chronic patients in the community, as well as crimes committed by current patients and ex-patients, have received widespread attention in cities throughout the nation.

Besides these structural issues, mental illness has always played a major role in popular culture and basic human awareness. Mental illness has figured largely in poetry, fiction, drama, art, and music. Many of the perceptions of mental illness form key parts of childhood socialization and adult belief systems. The mad artist, the frightening asylum, the mentally ill relative in the family closet, fear of a halfway house in the neighborhood, the mental patient's terror and desolation -- all these are part of the many perceptions of mental illness.

This course is interdisciplinary, in that it includes material from many fields. But there is a coherent organizing theme: the need to understand mental illness in a broad social context. Too often psychopathology is studied as a discrete entity, with little regard to its social origins and to the institutions of social control involved in mental illness. Such scientific detachment detracts from quality therapeutic care, as well as reinforcing public fears of mental illness. In this course students will explore how madness is a very ordinary human possibility which can be creative and/or destructive, breakdown and/or breakthrough. Precisely the significant attention paid to madness by all cultural institutions indicates how central madness is to human life. This course will enable students to study both social scientific/intellectual components, and cultural/emotional/expressive aspects of mental illness.

There are two major components of the course: I) Sociological Perspectives; and II) Mental Illness and the Arts, though sociology and artistic expression are woven together throughout the course.


There will be two lectures and one discussion section each week. There will also be time for discussion in lecture meetings. Discussion sections are required, and will take place every Friday, except the first and last week. Sections will be small enough to facilitate discussion. Study questions will be given out on Wednesday to help you prepare for the film or discussion. If you fail to get these on Wednesday, you must get them from a classmate or come to the TA's office to pick up a copy. Section discussions are a required and integral part of the course, and a place for you to examine the course material in depth.


-Reading and discussing assignments

-Participation in section discussions - If for any reason you cannot attend all sections, do not take this course!

-Attendance at films

-Four papers -- These are based on course readings, lectures, and films, as well as a little outside research:

In fairness to other students, assignments are due exactly on the day indicated. The syllabus lays this all out for you at the start of the semester, so that you can get organized. Late papers will have a grade penalty for each day late. Grades are based on the average of the four papers, with a weighting for section attendance and participation. Incompletes are unavailable.


Books to be purchased:

This is the approximate order in which they will be used. It is advisable to purchase all books before midsemester, when they are usually returned to publishers.

The required books are also available at the Reserve Room at the Rockefeller Library.

Reading Packet is also required and integral to the course; it is indicated by (R) in the syllabus. These readings are available at Jo-Art Copy Center where they will make copies for you. You should purchase this right away.

Handouts will be distributed from time to time for reading and discussion. If you fail to attend any class meeting, check with a classmate to see what you missed, and obtain it before the next meeting.

Recommended Readings are provided under some topics in case you wish to do further study. They are not required. These will also provide a source of readings for some research paper topics.


W Jan. 21
1. Introduction


F Jan. 23
2. The Experience of Madness


M, W Jan. 26-28
3. The Medical Model -- Critics and Defenders

F Jan. 30 Section Discussion


M,W Feb. 2-4
4. Stigma and Responsibility

-this week will include discussion of the film "The Promise"


F Feb. 6 Section Discussion

** Paper #1 due on "Stigma and Responsibility"


M, W Feb. 9-11
5. Sex Roles and Social Construction

F Feb. 13 Section Discussion

M. Feb. 16 holiday


W Feb. 18
6. The Personal Experience of Depression

F Feb. 20 Section Discussion


M Feb. 23
7. Mental Health Institutions --History and Political-Economy


W Feb 25
8. Social Structure of the Mental Hospital

F Feb. 27 Section Discussion

M,W Mar. 2-4
9. Gender, Social Control, and Psychotropic Medication

F Mar. 6 Section Discussion

** Paper #2 due on "Social Structure and Mental Illness"


M,W Mar. 9-11
10. Mental Health Policy - Community Mental Health, Deinstitutionalization, and Beyond

F Mar. 13 Section Discussion


M, W Mar. 16-18
11. The Clinical Setting: Diagnosis and Interaction

F Mar. 20 Section Discussion



M Mar. 30
12. Madness and Creativity


W. Apr. 1
13. Madness in Art - Van Gogh

F Apr. 3 Section Discussion


M,W Apr. 6-8
14. Madness in Art: Portrayals of Madness by Established Artists

F Apr. 10 Section Discussion


M W Apr. 13-15
15. The Art of Mental Patients

F Apr. 17 Section Discussion

** Paper #3 Due - "Artistic Perspectives on Mental Illness"


M Apr. 20
16. Madness in Fiction - Madness in its Social Context


W Apr. 22
17. Madness in Drama


F Apr. 24 Conclusion [in class; no section this week]

W April 29

** Paper #4 Due - "Perspectives on Mental Illness Based on Pat Conroy's Prince of Tides as a Book and Movie"

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