Explain How Sociological and Lay Ideas About Illness Differ from Those of Biomedicine

Explain how sociological and lay ideas about illness differ from those of biomedicine. Health is a giant wheel subject with several aspects and it is nearly impossible to explain wellness and health without considering the aspects of illness. And just as health is multi-faceted, illness, too, is studied in different perspectives. And that includes sociological, lay and biomedical concepts. Sociological Perspectives of Illness: In sociological terms, a functioning society is based on the well-being and health of the people and the control of illness.

This is where the finding of sociologist Talcott Parsons comes relevant. He introduced the term “the sick role”, which dealt with the social behaviour of, and the behavior toward those whom society defines as ill. Parsons stated that, the sick person is: • Not held responsible for being sick. • Not responsible for normal duties. • Not supposed to like the role.

• Supposed to seek help to get out of the role. Many suppose that illness is determined solely by science, but there is this sociological view, as per the definition of the sick role (Parsons, n. d. ), in which the society considers those four points as the criteria for an individual to assume the sick role but the society rules out those who like sickness or does not seek treatment as ineligible for the role (Sociological Perspective on Health, cliffnotes. com). This suggests that society plays a big part in determining sickness, too. However, drastic changes have taken place in the sociological perspectives of illness and the ‘sick role’.

Chemical dependency like addiction to alcohol and drugs were considered as character weakness in the past, but the scenario has changed with the advent of drug-rehab programmes, centers and the likes, which classify the addictions as diseases, though not quite as literally, but however, the individuals are allowed to assume the sick role as long as they seek treatment. Another instance is in the understanding of a disease condition as legitimate or otherwise.

The society has had misconceptions regarding many diseases which later proved to be legitimate scientifically. Such a scenario was prevalent in the case of AIDS, which the society shunned as a result of immoral conduct and violation of social values, rather than a disease condition. But as the society has become more aware of it as a disease and the sufferers as legitimately ill, the scenario has changed for the better. Again, this emphasizes on the huge role of the society in the issues of illness.

Yet another field that has experienced the difference that came about in the sociological view of illness is the mental illnesses, which displays a vast area of skepticism and implausible realities with regard to the psychiatric disorders. While in the past the mentally ill were not regarded as “diseased” persons, and locked away in insane asylums, the scene has changed and the understanding of mental illness has wonderfully improved, along with the conditions, after the introduction of community level methods to address the problems.

The sociological presentation of the situation has been explained in terms of ‘objectification’ and ‘anchoring’ (Joffe, 1997). Objectification transforms the abstract links to the past ideas that anchoring set up, into concrete mental content . And this abstract knowledge is made plausible by the way of the concrete content, through everyday discourse (Wagner et al. 1995).

As Helene Joffe puts it in her work The relationship between representational and materialist perspectives : AIDS and ‘the other’, social representational theory is a powerful tool that explains the relationship between scientific and lay ideas of mass illness. While the theory defines with precision how knowledge goes around in the society, the term ‘social representation’ denotes two ideas – one, the content of the people’s ideas about social phenomena that decides their understanding of the social aspects of their environment. Then, the processes that shape the contents.

(Joffe, 1997) However, the sociological perspectives and ideas of illness and the social representation of the same is deeply linked to the lay concepts and ideas of illness and in turn, health, meanwhile, to the scientific or biomedical concepts, that provide more proof in the field of diagnosis and management of illness, it plays as a mortar that binds the developments to the lay ideas, as times pass by, holding the holistic nature of wellness and illness together, through the diversities in the concepts. Lay Ideas and Concepts of Illness:

We have come to understand that sociological approach to illness and health is in part, a reaction to biomedical concepts. Whereas, lay perspectives and beliefs regarding illness come before that. In lay perspective, health is defined in terms of the provided culture, age and experience (T. Shakespeare et al. , August 2000). Lay concepts, also called folk concepts, of health and illness are conceptual models used by individuals, communities, or cultures in attempting to explain how to maintain health and to provide an explanation for illness (Trollope-Kumar et al.

, 2002). Lay concepts of health and illness often have theoretical underpinnings that arise from the wider theories of illness (e. g. , humoral, Ayurvedic, biomedical), but also include locally developed concepts about the body in health and illness that may not directly relate to the major theories of illness. Thus, the lay concepts about illness in the western countries would definitely contrast that of the eastern, as in Ayurvedic concepts in India.

The meaning of health in lay beliefs is explained in three terms by Herzlich (T. Shakespeare et al. , August 2000): • Health in a vacuum • Reserve of health • Equilibrium And in lay perspective, 6 categories of health definitions have been identified, including age, gender and class distinctions in ideas of health (Blaxter, n. d. ). Health is defined: • As not being ill • As a functional capacity • As physical fitness • As leading a healthy life • As a psychological concept • As a reserve

Those who do not reach upto this criteria might as well qualify as ill, in the simple process of lay concepts. This is closer to the sociological perspectives rather than that of biomedicine, since in lay concepts, people explain their bodies and matters of health and illness in unscientific and inaccurate language, which can be rectified only by awareness, as in community or social awareness of disease conditions. In lay perspective, ideas of illness include more than just the immediate cause of a condition, unlike the ideas in biomedicine.

Apart from gauging the severity of the disease and the appropriate treatment, lay conceptualization about the meaning of illness is also important. When people fall ill, they need to find an answer to the “why” of the illness as well as to the “how” of the illness (Trollope-Kumar et al. 2002). Lay concepts of illness are classified according to their origin, mainly to cite, as from within the individual, as from the natural world, as from the social world, as from the supernatural world etc.

The origins prioritized differ from country to country, and even culture to culture and community to community. This displays the highly variable and individualized or distinct scope and panorama of lay perspectives of illness, unlike the narrow, clipped clinical aspects of aetiologies and illness in biomedicine. According to Claudine Herzlich, “A child seems not to grasp what illness is nor to understand its future significance in his life; he has to learn to locate his experience in a framework of social explanations and rules.

” This aesthetically describes the broad spectrum of ideas of illness in lay perspective, in a nutshell. However, it becomes highly significant for a biomedical practitioner to be aware of the folk concepts as the diagnosis and causes of a condition could vary greatly when compared to the plain biomedical concepts. The lay/folk concepts have a glossary of their own symbolic meanings of moral, social and psychological dimensions regarding illness and the universal symptoms they express during the suffering.

For example, a person who complains of weakness, dizziness, and palpitations may be diagnosed by a Latino traditional healer to be suffering from nervios, when he or she may be experiencing a serious cardiac or neurological crisis (Trollope-Kumar et al. , 2002). But the opposite is bound to happen, too. A biomedical practitioner unaware of nervios is likely to overdose a patient with medicines meant for cardiac or neurological complaints when the condition might something trivial developed by anxiety or social stress the person is experiencing, where a traditional healer rightly treats it.

Thus, it is critical for biomedical practitioners to learn about local concepts of health and illness and to be alert for symptoms that may reflect emotional and social distress rather than a breakdown in the biomedical functions of the body. Biomedical Concepts of Illness: Biomedicine is a vast field that deals with the theoretical aspects of medicine, health and illness (McGuigan, n. d. ). The biomedical perspective or

concepts of health and illness differs from the sociological and lay ideas in the basic fact that it centers solely on the biological factors concerning a particular issue of illness, while sociological and lay beliefs are intent on various variables than fixed scientific findings and theories. And thus, biomedical concept excludes psychological, environmental and social factors that define illness and healing (Williams, n. d. ). Biomedical approaches are more focused on the objective laboratory findings rather than the subjective patient feelings and history.

This makes it a materialistic view, as it more or less eludes the psychological and social factors that plays a huge role in the wellness of an individual, meanwhile searching for more apparent biophysical or genetic dysfunction. In his book The Politics of Mental Illness: Myth and Power in the Work of Thomas S. Szasz, Dr. Jan Pols says, “Even though from a theoretical and scientific aspect the biomedical disease concept is valuable, though it has serious drawbacks as a concept in treating patients. Illness and being ill are realities in everybody’s life.

So knowledge and insight are also important to everybody, not only for preventing illness and identifying it on time, but also and especially to be able to understand what is happening, what the dangers, risks, and possibilities are in a certain situation. ” But, perhaps, illness can be described as an experiential disturbance as stated in a research on Biomedical concepts in Biological states (Lewis, n. d. ). Nevertheless, it has its limits when not collaborated with sociological and lay concepts of illness, that completes the perception of illness and makes its management holistic. REFERENCE Cliffsnotes, n.

d. , Sociological Perspective on Health, Article [Online], Available at http://www. cliffsnotes. com/study_guide/Sociological-Perspective-on-Health. topicArticleId-26957,articleId-26936. html. Joffe, H. , 1997, The relationship between representational and materialist perspectives : AIDS and ‘the other’. In: Yardley, L. ed. 1997, Material Discourses of Health and Illness, Psychology Press, 1997. Trollope-Kumar, K. , Last, J. , 2002, Lay Concepts of Health and Illness, Article by The Gale Group Inc. , Macmillan Reference USA, available at http://health. yahoo. net/galecontent/lay-concepts-of-health-and-illness.