Serious problems ... but serious social problems

Earlier, I referred to a couple of pieces of research conducted in my university department at Liverpool. To illustrate how social factors - life events and the social circumstances of our lives - can lead to personal distress, and real difficulties, I referred to Ben Barr and colleagues' research into how suicide is linked to economic recession. The links are statistically robust, and easy to understand - losing your job or feeling under the threat of redundancy can seriously affect your well-being, induce feelings of hopelessness and, clearly, lead to suicide. That is a very real and very serious outcome. Arguably, the most serious possible outcome. But this is a social phenomenon with human consequences, not a 'risk factor' for an 'illness'. I also referred to the detailed epidemiological research conducted by Richard Bentall and John Read into the impact of childhood trauma - child abuse - on the likelihood of developing psychosis. The research shows that there is a clear causal link between abuse in childhood and the experience of hallucinations or delusional beliefs in later life, and this has recently been accepted in court decisions about legal liability. These problems - often leading to the inappropriate diagnosis of 'schizophrenia' - are enormously significant for many people. That shouldn't be a surprise. Most societies take the abuse of children very seriously. Such abuse profoundly changes our relationships with parents, with other adults, our sense of self, our sense of safety and security, our understanding of the nature of adult intimate relationships. It's hardly surprising that these are considered serious crimes, and have clear links to serious psychological outcomes. But this is a social model - criminal acts impact on the victims in understandable ways.

Social issues have profound and understandable impacts on people. These are real and serious problems. But they remain social and psychological issues. This is a positive message: recognising the nature and origin of these problems allows us to see more clearly that they are understandable, preventable, amenable to change, and even more amenable if caught early.

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