Ageing and Mental Health

[CN: Child abuse]

Ageing and Mental Health

Age and the lifecourse

Age is another dimension of social patterning. There are three main concerns when considering age and aging as a social factor:

  1. Identification of structural and institutional influences that pattern early exposure to stress.
  2. Stress universes for different people at different ages.
  3. Identifying key aspects of the life course that set, or alter, the trajectory of mental health in childhood and adolescence, and their continuing implications for adulthood.
Childhood and mental health

Two relevant factors must be considered when exploring childhood and mental health:

1. Emotional life of young people

A lot of the exploration of the emotional life of young people is influenced by Freudianism. According to this perspective, civilisation puts limits on the free expression and experience of emotions, particularly the instincts for sexual desire and murderous aggression.

This battle between emotions and social conformity leads to the development of neurosis. The obvious limitation is that differences between social groups have not been systematically addressed.

Personally, I’ve never put much stock in Freud’s theories. While he undeniably contributed to the field of social science because he was one of the first theorists to propose subconsciousness, his focus on sexuality – especially in his theories of development – is a little bizarre. This becomes especially perplexing when you consider that when he developed those theories, he never actually observed children. His theories were all based on talking to adults in a society where Victorian values meant that most expressions of sexuality were extremely repressed.

2. Primary socialisation

Childhood is undeniably a special part of the lifespan. It is important to note that children have relatively low status within mainstream sociology. In fact, some theorists have proposed that children form a minority group within society because of the low status they hold. Recently, the sociology of childhood has been established in order to focus on understanding children’s social position as a minority group.

Childhood abuse and mental health challenges

The risk of childhood abuse is exacerbated by a number of factors which include the troubled inter-generational attachment relationships in families.

Survivors of child abuse are more likely to demonstrate aggression, sexually inappropriate behaviour, and sexual aggression.

Social competence in adulthood

All mental health challenges can be thought of as failures of social competence.

Personally, I disagree with this statement. I think we would view many things differently if the concept of social competence was more flexible than what it currently is.

Adolescence, social media and mental health

Adolescence is a key time for individuation. In sociological terms, adolescence is seen as a transitional period between childhood and adulthood.

The ‘Third Age,’ retirement and mental health

Early retirement has been associated with cognitive decline.

Personally, I think it would be worthwhile exploring whether activities, other than remaining in the workforce, could ameliorate this cognitive decline. I believe that it would because it is not so much the cessation of work, as it is the cessation of routine and social participation. Those needs could be met through other activities.


As you can no doubt discern from the above notes, there was a lot in this particular section that I didn’t personally agree with. I believe that the theorists were somewhat biased, and intersectional factors across the lifespan were basically ignored.

This is part of a series of summaries that I am doing in order to revise Sociology of Mental Health. It won’t be shared on social media, but anyone is welcome to read these posts if they would be of interest.

If you would like to read more, most of this information came from this book.

1 thought on “Ageing and Mental Health”

  1. It seems like Freud, at the beginning of his career, actually had some reasonable theories about how women who were abused early in life later developed “hysterias” (read: traumas, as expressed in sexist 19th century vernacular), but professional pressure led him to come up with the cockamamie sexual theories he is known for today, in part because his colleagues were sexist and in part because they were likely abusers themselves.
    This link explores that.
    http://www.bibliotecapleyades.net/ciencia/supressed_inventions/suppressed_inventions16.htm
    Freud’s story of the reduction in the quality of his theories as a result of strong professional pressure should remind young scientists and aspiring scientists to make sure that their “objective” theories are not unduly influenced by the many biases within the scientific community. This can e very hard to do as scientists who apply this kind of pressure to their students may think they are being completely objective and may not realize how much their views are influenced by a status quo; while it is important if you plan to be a scientist not to leap to conclusions, it is also very important to make sure that, in critically reexamining your views, you do not let the reexamination become tainted by common, often ill-founded, biases within the scientific community.

    Case in point; arguing that seagulls do not use tools just because they don’t carry their anvil rocks with them, even though we don’t carry all of our tools (heck, we even use variations of the seagull method sometimes) and the basic cognitive process the gulls use when smashing shells on rocks is basically that of a tool user.

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