SOC363H1 Sociology of Mental Health
October 10, 2012
Basic Social Patterns of Distress
The Sociological Study of Stress
Leonard Pearlin opened his classic paper The Sociological Study of experiences that stem from
these arrangements. Stress with the following three sentences:
Sociologists have an intellectual stake in the study of stress.
It presents an excellent opportunity to observe how deeply well-being is affected by the
structured arrangements of peoples lives and by the repeated
Social research into stress is consistent with a present-day social psychology that seeks to
establish the unities between social structure and the inner functioning of individuals.
Pearlin was the first to capture why sociologists should have a stake in this. Its not random
things happening to random people, its about the repeated systematic patterned experiences.
Thats where the sociology is. Does the social environment, economic, or structural context have
anything to do with that, how and in what way?
Pearlin on what makes the study of stress sociological:
Many stressful experiences dont spring out of a vacuum but typically can be traced
back to surrounding social structures and peoples locations within them.
The most encompassing of these structures are the various systems of stratification that
cut across societies, such as those based on socioeconomic status, gender, and age.
o If theres something thats going to capture the next two classes, it really is about
these systems of stratification that cut across all societies.
o He also talks about race and ethnicity but not enough time to discuss that here.
o The take home point here is that
To the extent that these systems embody the unequal distribution of resources,
opportunities, and self-regard, a low status within them may be a source of stressful life
o Its this idea that somehow resources, opportunities and self regard would be
equally or randomly distributed vs. patterned.
This is key: The scientific pursuit of trying to understand the regular, systematicand the
socialpatterning of exposures to stressors and the patterning of responses in the population.
This is what makes it sociological. Its very much about looking at research and understanding it
with the scientific method.
What are the 5 Basic Social Patterns of Psychological Distress
Mirkowsky and Ross have 6 but only discussing 5. Basically studies in the past started finding a
social distribution of distress of misery, despair, etc. surveys have really discovered social
distribution of distress
A social distribution of psychological distress discovered in community surveys over the past
Socioeconomic Status (SES)
o Higher SES tends to be associated with lower distress. 2
o Middle-aged people tend to be the least depressed, but older tend to be least
anxious and angry.
o For test 2 remember age and depression is like a smiley face basically, on
average the highest levels of depression tend to be amongst the highest age groups
then they tend to go down and supposedly the best years are the 40s and 50s.
And then it starts to go up as you close up your life.
o Women tend to be more distressed than men.
o Married people tend to be less distressed than the unmarried.
o Parents with children at home tend to be more distressed than people who are not
Today were focusing on SES and AGE, next class will discuss the last 3 because theyre more
related to work issues.
The Social Patterns of Distress
When surveys in the 1960s and 1970s started documenting these basic social patterns, this
inspired sociologists to explain the reasons for them. Its not that you just say women tend to
report more depression than men, but why? Sociologists ought to document and describe social
patterns. In a way this is an exciting prospect b/c sociologists who study stress and are interested
in gender they have to explore areas of gender.
Why do people with SES tend to fare better?
Why do women tend to be more distressed?
What contributes to the age patterns in depression?
Weve established the social patternsnow we must try to explain them. What have sociologists
How are researchers able to make these types of broad statements or generalizations (about
social patterns of distress)?
We use evidence from community- or population-based surveys; Interviews with
thousands of people selected at random from the population;
o Statements about associations are probabilistic (on average, tendencies that
researchers observe in real data):
Patterns refer to tendencies that researchers observe in large amounts of
For example, women tend to report more frequent symptoms of depression
We are not stating: all women are more depressed than all men.
We are suggesting that large population-based studies have
discovered thaton averagewomen tend to report more frequent
symptoms of depression compared to men.3
If we took a random sample of Toronto residents and looked at the
overall average (mean) level of depressive symptoms, women
would tend to report than men.
o Social facts are hard facts, but they are not eternal; social patterns of distress
change as society changes. They are also not cross cultural. Some of the studies
that say women are more distressed than men took place in the past, but are they
changing? Are they changing as society changes?
These patterns may have appeared in population-based studies in recent
decades, and they may still appear in future surveysbut, social changes
may also lead to changes in these social patterns.
Basic Pattern: High SES Improves Psychological Well Being
What is the definition of socioeconomic status (SES)?
A persons relative position in the distribution of opportunity, prosperity, and standing;
o SES indexes ones unequal access to socially valued resources, goods, and quality
o How do we measure it?
low economic hardship (also a stressor?). Theres some fuzzy boundaries
around these definitions but you can imagine low education, low income
and poor jobs being associate