Advances in Mental Health Research

Thursday Jun 06 1:30 pm to 3:00 pm
ANGU 292

Session Code: SMH1
Session Format: Regular
Session Language: English
Research Cluster Affiliation: Sociology of Mental Health
Session Categories: Regular Session

Research on the Sociology of Mental Health has undergone many changes over the past few years related to theoretical and methodological advances in the discipline. This session exhibits researchers doing just that and considers innovations in understanding the differential exposure and vulnerability to stressors in all areas of life. Tags: Applied Sociology

Organizer: Marisa Young, McMaster University; Chair: Marisa Young, McMaster University


Laura Upenieks, University of Toronto; Ioana Sendroiu, University of Toronto; Ron Levi, University of Toronto; John Hagan, Northwestern University

The Palliative Function of Legality Beliefs on Mental Health

Research on mental health is paying increasing attention to the influence of social institutions on subjective well-being over the life course. However, little research has considered how belief in the promise of legal institutions may have beneficial effects for well-being. Through structural equation models of longitudinal data from Canada, our findings suggest that belief in the fairness of legal institutions has salutary effects for mental health, net of social and economic status, and across individuals from a wide range of ethnic groups. By combining research in the sociology of mental health, cultural sociology, social psychology and the sociology of law, we argue that beliefs in legal fairness serve a palliative function that may be beneficial for well-being, though they may also ultimately preserve the status quo. In so doing, we extend the emerging literature on the institutional determinants of mental health by including attention to law as one of the central organizing institutions of social life.

Ley Dorian Fraser, University of Manitoba

The Icelandic Way: Recommendations for the Adoption of Iceland's Substance Abuse Prevention Program in North America

Iceland has the distinction of having implemented an enormously effective national plan for to reducing youth substance abuse (‘Youth in Iceland’; Young Jan 17 2017) based in part on American psychologist Dr. Harvey Milkman’s highly successful pilot project on teen substance-abuse reduction (‘Project Self-Discovery’).  The novelty of the program was a focus on reducing substance use by providing activities which created a similar brain chemistry (Milkman, Wanberg and Robinson 1996) replacing the need for illicit highs.  The activities offered quite literally and directly fulfilled the physiological needs for stimulation that young people could otherwise pursue by illicit substance use. Despite the success of ‘Youth in Iceland’ there have been no similar programs adopted in North America.  In this paper, I examine differences in the Icelandic and North American welfare state, conceptions of substance abuse, and views of social democracy as factors which influence the adoption of an innovative program like ‘Youth in Iceland’.  I offer parallels between the vulnerability of youth in Iceland and North America and resorting to substance use for physiological highs, and recommendations for how to market ‘Youth in Iceland’ to appeal to North American cultural and ideological views. 

Jonathan Kauenhowen, University of Toronto

Cultural resources and mental health: The impact of traditional activities and Aboriginal school programming on psychological distress

Incorporating traditional practices in mental health services has been a point of emphasis in culturally responsive approaches to therapy. Participation in traditional activities has the potential to strengthen communal and cultural ties, and research suggests that it can have mental health benefits as well. Drawing on data from the 2012 _Aboriginal Peoples Survey _(APS), I use a weighted least squares (WLS) regression model to test the role that cultural connections and participation in traditional activities play in supporting psychological wellbeing. The results indicate that while access to Aboriginal language and cultural programs in school was associated with lower levels of psychological distress, participation in activities such as trapping, gathering medicine or making traditional clothing was associated with a slight increase in psychological distress. The article concludes that while the benefits of accessible cultural resources are clear, the association between participation in traditional activities and psychological wellbeing may be influenced by individuals engaging in these activities as a response to distress.

Blair Wheaton, University of Toronto

Exploring Boundaries in the Sociology of Mental Health

Boundaries form naturally and invisibly in the history of research traditions. Both consensus and inertia result in increasingly conservative “normal science”. I define and discuss the invisible boundaries that limit the sociological study of mental health. These boundaries involve methodological and conceptual traditions, but also the cultural specificity of mental health research in North America. I emphasize the importance of expanding the study of mental health through the internationalization of mental health research, the expansion of mental health concepts, addressing blind spots in the application of methods, bridging false distinctions, and fighting the insidious effects of confirmation bias on research.