Marginalised and Vulnerable Populations

One of the key contributions of critical health psychology has been to explore, work with, give voice to and increase awareness of the health experiences, illness and outcomes of people who are in marginalised or vulnerable groups. These people are frequently stigmatised by virtue of their appearance, situation in society, ethnicity, sexuality or health status (e.g., being HIV positive), to name but a few examples. Critical health psychologists have been crucial in highlighting these situations and promoting positive change. For example, Rohleder, Braathen, Swartz and Eide (2009) have highlighted how people with disabilities (visual, hearing, physical and learning) in southern Africa may be at more risk for HIV than others. Their review of the research outlines a number of reasons why this may be, including that disabled people are poorer than others, less educated, less likely to be employed, lack access to relevant sex education, lack knowledge about safe sex, are more vulnerable to sexual abuse, and are more likely to be socially isolated and stigmatised. Rohleder and Swartz’s (2009) research in South Africa identified the importance of sex education for people with learning disabilities, and sex educators’ views on the challenges in providing such education in an effective way.

Critical work with marginalised populations has also focused on sexuality, and challenging the continuing stigmatisation of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ; Rohleder, 2012). This work highlights the implicit heteronormative basis of much of the research in health psychology and heterosexism in health and social care (Fish, 2006). It seeks to extend health knowledge to include the experiences and accounts of LGBTQ individuals (e.g., Adams, McCreanor, & Braun, 2013; Jowett, Peel, & Shaw, 2012) in ways that do not reinscribe pathology (Fish, 2009) and argues for sexual identity to be a mainstream part of health policy (Fish, 2006). Other work has focused on marginalised groups such as working class people, particularly in understanding behaviours related to health (e.g., Day, 2012). Scholars have recently argued that class is often conceptualised straightforwardly as ‘socio-economic status’, which neglects more sophisticated, critical understandings of class involving complexity and identities (Day, Rickett, & Woolhouse, 2014; see also Hodgetts & Griffin, 2015). Such critical insights are particularly valuable in critical health psychology where health inequalities are starkly apparent across social class groupings. Issues of gender, ethnicity, discrimination and racism are also key areas that have received much attention within critical health psychology (e.g., see Brondolo, Gallo, & Myers, 2009).

 
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