Social structure suggests that there are specific responsibilities, which we naturally fulfil, such as marriage, which will induce a stressful life. Social support is considered vital in recovering from an illness playing a vital function, those who do not have this support are more likely to get ill, however ‘interpersonal relationships are a primary source of stress as well as support’ (Marks 2002). It also fails to identify other means of support as worthwhile. It is assumed that a specific type of person is more likely to suffer from stress, this could be linked to class, example those who are poor would be at a higher risk.
Nevertheless this can be critiqued as not everybody in a disadvantaged group suffers fro stress. It presupposes that stress as an illness has a social cause, whereas biological and psychological factors also need to be considered. Further research has established the effects of stress to the immune system. ‘Developments in the past twenty years have confirmed clinical intuitions and shown immune functions to be stress-sensitive, raising the question of weather acute or chronic stressful events could contribute to pathogenesis of immune-related diseases (Biondi 2001).
Psychoneyroimmunology research has established a link between the nervous and immune system. ‘Immune cells seem to have a memory the enables them to adapt to specific emotional responses’ (Pert), the body is conditioned and responds to stress. This theory has been criticised as it is not clear what methods are used to test and measure stress response, antibodies are analysed, but are the right ones being analysed? Through it is a development this doesn’t find a causality, furthermore it has been critiqued that this process is simple making more complex theories.
Critical health psychologists attempt to challenge the inequalities in mainstream theories and approach this topic with a more discursive view, but why should we adopt a critical understanding? The current discussions surrounding the issue of stress through self-help texts are analysed. A series of common narratives and metaphors are woven within the narratives, and the representations of the subject are reconstructed from the text. Brown (1999) discusses this further through his own analysis.
‘The kind of public conduct which the books are actively seeking to bring about is one which we might want to question’ (Brown 1999), it is implied, that the discourse are ideological and are used to represent stress are culturally and politically mediated. ‘The very vagueness of the term stress serves to mask a political economy entirely centred on the vicissitudes of the liberal humanists subject’ (Young 1980). In contrast to the essentialist views of mainstream psychology, it is obvious that stress is a fluid, flexible notion of the word stress, due to the enormous amounts of differing advise available.
‘Some texts are written by medical practitioners, eager to promote health living; others are by academics keen to show how what they define as scientific knowledge can be applied to everyday life.. (Brown 1999). Discourse on stress is continuously illustrated negatively ‘The ever-present enemy is not armed with tanks or machine guns, and kills and maims not with bullets but with stress’ (Coleman 1978). But is stress necessarily a negative?
‘Although stress typically takes its toll, we learn that most persons shape acceptable resolutions to difficult circumstances whilst some manage not only to survive but also to mature in the face of overwhelming hardship’ (Marks 2002). Individuals have to agree to the current discourse on stress before it can be dealt with, an example of this is relationships, people are encouraged not to talk about problems or challenge them in any way, ‘The exercise become explicable only once one has first ‘bought into’ the discourse about stress which the text promulgates, thereby defining relationship difficulties as ‘stressful’ (Brown 1999).
Summarising Browns analysis self-help text show re-occurring themes in relation to stress being associated as a twentieth- century disease, a primitive response syndrome, due to the fast pace of modern life, as an account of seeing things differently, or juggling work and home roles. He also suggests that there are a number of devises used to describe stressful causes such as heat, as a ‘battle’ or ‘war’, through engineering or computation, or by accessing the serviceable self.
In all these examples it is clear that culturally stress is perceived as an individualistic problem, ‘The fact that stress is mostly an experience that we create for ourselves means that only we as individuals can control and manage our own stress’ (Looker and Gregson 1989:7), it is your problem which you need to deal with! It is argued that a more holistic approach should be adopted, new research by Somerfield, although it has been criticized, proposes ‘Stress and coping must be approached in a holistic way as a system of many variables and processes’ (Lazarus 1999).
All experiences of stress differ, Crossley’s (2000) approach attempts to establish meaning to individuals experience of stress, this information was gathered through the analysis of personal accounts of those living with serious pain. Individuals ‘feel increasing objectified, dehumanised and disempowered’, it is also argued that mainstream views categorises experiences to either a biological, psychological or social variable.
Klienman (1988) argues that traditional approaches constitute ‘a radically materialistic pursuit’, suggesting that this could be potentially harmful as experiences are calculated as measurable data, taking direct attention meaning accumulated through suffering a serious illness. These conventional beliefs need to be developed to correspond with a new experiential search for learning, control recognition and accountability. Mainstream views of stress are judgemental and values laden, we have an apparent moral obligation to be healthy, wholesome, responsible citizens, becoming ill is represented as a personal failing.
‘The state of health has increasingly come to be seen as a symbol for the good, moral, responsible self to the extent that the pursuit of health has actually become the pursuit of moral personhood’ (Crossley 1997). Critical health psychologists have introduced the notion of subjectification to the previously established objectified and rationalized notion of health by seeking other aspects such as language to develop meaning to explore pain and suffering.
However, does encouraging people to tell stories bring genuine insight, or just more information to govern? With regards to stress and other serious illness, most people simply want the pain and anguish to stop so would traditional methods serve as the best way to alleviate the pain? Crossley suggests that critical health psychology does alleviate the pain ‘As a means of rectifying imbalances in a culture dominated by biomedical defined scripts of pain and disease’.
It is important to recognise that although they have contrasting views, both mainstream and critical health psychology have attributed the illness of psychological stress. It is apparent that what needs to be established is how this knowledge can be integrated to form a clearer understanding of stress. Although gaining knowledge, determining causes, analysing narratives, deciphering meanings doesn’t recognise that we are all overworked, underpaid and have to much to do!