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Visiting Professor, Piet Bracke, Speaks on Public Mental Health
2015-02-20

Piet Bracke

Professor in the Department of Sociology at the Ghent University in Belgium, Piet Bracke, recently visited the UFS to speak about his research on the Public mental health and comparative health research: between social theory and psychiatric epidemiology.

At the public lecture on Monday 16 February, Bracke stated that part of the sociological attention to mental health and well-being was rooted in the 19th century's romanticists' discontent with self and society. The classical and contemporary social theorists' views on the disconnection between culture and the ‘real’ self resembles the more recent evolutionary psychological assumptions about the maladaptation of  psychobiological mechanisms to contemporary societal arrangements.

In contrast to these perspectives, contemporary psychiatric epidemiological research has a strongly underdeveloped conception about the nexus between society and population mental health. Both perspectives, the social-theory-and-societal-discontent approach and the biomedical psychiatric epidemiological approach, have drawbacks. Starting from the pitfalls of the aforementioned perspectives, they have been exploring the challenges posed by the development of a macro-sociology of population mental health.

Recently, this research domain has received renewed attention of scholars inside as well as outside sociology. The rise of multi-country, multilevel datasets containing health-related information, as well as the growing attention on the fundamental social causes of health and illness, and the focus on population as opposed to individual health, has contributed to the revival of comparative public mental health research. Based on findings from their recent research, they have illustrated how taking the context into account is vital when exploring the social roots of mental health and illness. In addition, they have demonstrated how they can liberate a few so-called ‘control variables’ in risk factor epidemiology – e.g. gender, education, and age – from their suppressed status by linking them to core concepts of sociology. With their research, they hope to further the development of a macro-sociology of public mental health.

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