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Sick Role

Sick Role

Author: Paul Hannan

Recognize the impacts of illness and medicine on the population.


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Source: Intro Music by Mark Hannan; Public Domain Thermometer; Public Domain Lego; Public Domain

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[MUSIC PLAYING] Welcome to this episode of Sociology-- Studies of Society. Today's lesson is on the sick role. As always, don't be afraid to pause, stop, rewind, or even fast forward to make sure you get the most out of this tutorial.

So today I'm going to be explaining to you what the sick role is. It helps as I go through the sick role if you think of the last time that you were really sick and you had to miss out on some things because of you being sick. If you're someone in extremely good health, maybe it's hard to think of something for yourself. Think of a family member, or a co-worker, or a close friend, when they last got pretty sick and had to not do some things.

So the sick role is really something that happens to individuals when they're sick. And there's two different kind of parts to that. There's something that happens to the person that is sick. There's certain things that they have to do and things that we expect of them. And then there are certain things that society does because of the sick role.

So the first thing though that happens when you're sick is that you're temporarily exempt from obligations. What does that mean? Well, that means that you can call in sick, to work. That means that you can put off doing the laundry for a couple days. It means that maybe your partner is going to be the one making dinner, even if it's your night to make dinner. So you get to not have to do all your obligations because you are sick.

And accompanying that is that you're not necessarily responsible for your condition. No one's blaming you because you've got the flu. You got the flu. And that's just what happens. People get sick.

Now as you adopt this sick role, society saying, yep, we understand it's not your fault you're sick. And yes, we understand you can't do everything that you'd normally do. But you have to do two things for us. You have to try to get well. And you have to get help and work with medical professionals.

That doesn't mean that you always have to go to the doctor if you're sick. But if things get bad enough, it's your responsibility to go and get help. Seek help. And then when you're getting help, work with the people you're getting help from to make sure you can get better.

Let me give you an example of the sick role. So a psychosomatic disorder is just a disorder where a mental illness has some physical symptoms to it. So something that's going on in your mental makeup, that is making you so sick that you actually have physical things that are happening to your body. Maybe you are having tremors because of post-traumatic stress syndrome. You are having physical things show in your body because of that mental illness.

Now, the sick role is going to say that that person and their mental illness, one, it's not their fault they have that mental illness. That soldier coming back from Iraq, who has post-traumatic stress syndrome, it's not their fault. Two, we understand that they're not going to do everything that they need to do right away. So we're going to excuse them of some obligations.

Three, on the flipside though, we expect them to seek help. They need to find a way to get better. And through that getting help, especially with something as hard to deal with as post-traumatic stress syndrome, they need to actually get help from professionals. And they need to work with those professionals so they can get better. And that is the sick role.

So today's take-away message, we looked at the sick role. And I said that you are temporarily exempt from obligations as a part of being sick. And we looked at psychosomatic disorders. And that's a mental illness, with physical symptoms.

Well, that's it for this lesson. Good work. And hopefully you'll be seeing me on your screen again soon. Peace.

Terms to Know
Psychosomatic Disorder

A mental illness with physical symptoms.

Sick Role

A temporary role a person assumes when sick that exempts them from normal day-to-day obligations.