In his General Conference address “Songs Sung and Unsung”, Elder Jeffery R. Holland highlights how mental health struggles can be detrimental to one’s spirituality. We can look at what we can do as collective sons and daughters of God to help those around us who are suffering. We can use the sociological imagination to identify and gain empathy for how exposure to intense social stress and the inability to adequately cope with social stress can lead to difficult mental health situations.
Stress is an undeniable feature of life. Stress is defined as being a state of tension resulting from very demanding circumstances. Social stress is strain or tension that arises as a result of one’s relationships and their social environment. The healthcare community has viewed thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that accompany stress as symptoms to be treated. Sociologists believe that this approach has failed because the environment one lives in contributes greatly to the stress one experiences. The sociological imagination can help us see how this can manifest in real life. Children raised in single parent households experience different stressors than children raised with two parents. Children in single parent households can experience pronounced stress due to visitation disputes, continued conflict between parents, economic issues, and a decrease in time spent between parent and child.
A single parent may have to work more, live paycheck to paycheck, or receive government aid. This can cause a child to be forced to find independence sooner than their peers, start working earlier to support the family, or even go without food or proper clothing. All or any combination of these things can cause intense stress that can easily impact one’s mental health. I feel more empathy for those who struggle with their mental health as I recognize how circumstances beyond their control such as these can factor into what they are experiencing. Circumstances, environment, and relationships can influence the variety of the intensity of stress one individual experiences compared to another.
While individuals can experience different stressors depending on their environment, there can also be a disparity between individuals in their ability to cope with stress. Resilience is the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties. Using the sociological imagination we can see that some people have more coping resources to help them recover from difficult circumstances than others. Coping resources can include support systems such as strong family ties or institutional support systems such as church communities. Functionalists study how institutions affect individuals and groups. To functionalists, a church serves to lend emotional support, guide social behavior, and be a physical gathering place for social interaction.
The church can provide people and strategies to help an individual cope with the stress they experience in their life. Educational institutions can also affect individuals. For example, a university’s primary manifest function is to transmit knowledge. Unfortunately, universities have also been linked to the dysfunction of transmittance of poor mental health. The intensity of academics in higher education has often caused college students to spread themselves thin, lose sleep, and participate in toxic perfectionism.
College is often so demanding academically that it causes students to forgo hobbies and other activities that they enjoy in order to focus on academics. This is often detrimental to their efficacy and efficiency. Many students do not have the proper tools to manage their stress or anxiety and the institution fails to prepare them for the pressures that they will subject them to. First generation college students and students that must work part time while attending school could be affected much worse than their counterparts who have learned lessons from family members or don’t have to juggle their own finances while getting good grades.
I find more empathy for those struggling with mental health as I use the sociological imagination to analyze how what they have experienced in the past contributes to what they experience now. Some individuals experience more social stress and others are more vulnerable to social stressors than others. By using the sociological imagination I can see how circumstances, environment, and relationships can factor into how social stress is experienced and can see how complex this societal issue is.