Sociological traditions in the study of mental health services utilization

Donna D McAlpine, Carol A. Boyer

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

11 Scopus citations


Sociological accounts of the utilization of mental health services echo the conceptual frameworks and language that have long been the domain of the discipline. There is a rich tradition of research describing individuals who use care and their interactions with health care professionals and the institutions that define the mental health care system. This body of research demonstrates that pervasive social influences that go beyond the characteristics of the illness or its symptoms shape individuals' help-seeking behavior and treatment experiences. In the earliest work that incorporated sociological theory, Talcott Parsons (1951) defined help-seeking in terms of the social roles of the sick and their physicians; social norms and expectations exerted powerful influences on decision-making when ill and on the structure and organization of care. Although Parsons' concept of the sick role fit less well with mental illnesses, his conceptualization of the doctor-patient relationship as essentially socially defined, informed research on utilization for all health problems. Similarly when closely tied to disciplinary interests, mental health utilization research offers a platform for studying larger sociological concepts of attribution, social inequalities, countervailing power relationships, social organization, and socialization. Mental health utilization research likewise informs the broader discipline about the social context of individual, group and organizational behavior.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationMental Health, Social Mirror
PublisherSpringer US
Number of pages24
ISBN (Print)038736319X, 9780387363196
StatePublished - Dec 1 2007

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