Social class and mental illness: A study of two Brisbane suburbs

Pemberton, Alexander Gordon (1973). Social class and mental illness: A study of two Brisbane suburbs M.A. Thesis, School of Social Science, The University of Queensland.

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Author Pemberton, Alexander Gordon
Thesis Title Social class and mental illness: A study of two Brisbane suburbs
School, Centre or Institute School of Social Science
Institution The University of Queensland
Publication date 1973
Thesis type M.A. Thesis
Total pages 295
Language eng
Subjects 111714 Mental Health
Formatted abstract       This thesis is a report of an Australian study of social class and mental illness. It is based on an investigation of two Brisbane suburbs - The Gap, a predominantly middle class area and Carina, a working class suburb. The data examined here are from two sources; a psychiatric morbidity census or enumeration of psychiatric patients from the two suburbs, and a questionnaire survey of samples of residents of Carina and The Gap.

      In the first chapter of the report, some of the theoretical and methodological issues underpinning a study of class and psychiatric illness are tackled. Specifically, the particular approaches to 'social class' and 'mental illness' are discussed in some detail. In addition, the chapter provides a general introduction to sociological studies of psychiatric disturbance, and an overview of relevant research with special emphasis on published Australian work.

      Chapter Two is concerned with a rationale for the project and a detailed account of the data gathering procedures (the psychiatric census and the social survey), The task in Chapter Three is to provide a description of Carina and The Gap, highlighting and contrasting their main social and demographic features - notably, the marked differences in socio-economic composition of their residents. The chapter concludes with a discussion of whether the survey samples were representative of characteristics of the suburban populations.

      The next three chapters present an analysis of the data. Chapter Four examines the results of the morbidity census and it was found that Carina (the blue collar area) provided more than twice as many patients as The Gap (the mainly white collar suburb). However, when the cases were analyzed by the patient's socioeconomic status there was no association between social status, and the frequency and type of mental disorder. Further, this finding - one which contradicts the overseas evidence - is supported by additional data from the sample survey of the two suburbs; there was no relationship observed between the respondent's social status and whether or not they reported that anyone from their household had needed to seek medical help for a mental or nervous illness. The remainder of the chapter is an analysis of the relation between socioeconomic status and the kind of treatment received by patients in the morbidity census.

      In Chapter Five, there is an analysis of two aspects of the samples' responses to simulated cases of mental disorder presented in the course of the survey. Overall, the data revealed a low perception of the seriousness of the symptoms of psychiatric disorder and a low level of identification of mental illness. Recognition of mental illness (and perhaps the evaluation of the seriousness of symptoms) appeared to be related to the socio-economic standing of the respondent – the higher-up the social scale, the more likely were respondents to recognize mental illness in the fictitious cases. Respondent's knowledge about where to find psychiatric treatment (and help for marital and financial troubles) is discussed in Chapter Six. Generally speaking, the level of information among sample members was high; most respondents from Carina and The Gap said they would know where to seek psychiatric help (as well as marital and financial assistance), and they were able to nominate specific and realistic facilities when pressed further for details. Knowledge about where to obtain help was related to socio-economic status (high status persons were the most informed), though this was only a relative matter - the majority of respondents from working class backgrounds said they would know where to find help if the need arose.

      Finally, in Chapter Seven, the main findings of the project are reviewed and some of its limitations noted. Next, the implications of the findings for future research are considered and last, there is an assessment of the relevance of the study for the provision of effective psychiatric services.

Keyword Mental illness -- Queensland -- Brisbane
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