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Sick Role

Sick Role

Author: Zach Lamb

Recognize the impacts of illness and medicine on the population.


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Source: Intro Music by Mark Hannan; Public Domain

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Hello. Welcome to Sociological Studies. How are you doing? Hope you're doing well. We're going to discuss the sick role in today's lesson. A sick role is a temporary role that a person assumes when they are sick that exempts them from normal obligations. Society has constructed a discourse around being sick. What does it mean to be sick in our society? It has meaning.

You don't have to do everything you normally do. When you're sick you're constructed as the victim. It's not your fault that you're sick. So you get a pass temporarily. You get a pass from obligations. You don't have to go to work. You don't have to go to school. You don't have to do things in the household that you normally have to do. You don't have to do any cleaning if you don't want to. You don't have to do any cooking.

Society tends to pity the sick and freeze them from all these obligations. But you have to want to get well. You can't just milk this sick role society says. If you do then people are going to stop pitying you. You have to try actively to get better and you'll be expected to engage with the medical professionals to help you get better. If this is a long term sick role like cancer or something like that, you're expected to try and get better.

The sick role kind of loses its weight if you bring the sickness on yourself. Suppose you're hungover. You drink too much and your hungover the next day. It's a little more difficult to claim the sick role because it's less involuntary. Meaning you went out with your choices, you went out and got drunk and now you're sick. So calling into work is much more questionable than when you're hungover because it's harder to claim the sick role. So you see there's an element of involuntary assumption the sick role with that.

One type of illness that you could be subject to the sick role is a psychosomatic disorder. And that's a mental illness that has physical symptoms. Meaning the mental illness you're going through is so intense that it manifests itself physically. And we call this the big fancy word the psychosomatic disorder. As with other disorders and illnesses, mental illnesses are no different.

Society constructs the discourse around mental illness as you being the victim of mental illness. So it's not your fault that you have a psychosomatic disorder. So you can then as well adopt the sick role and society will treat you in this fashion. This has been an introduction to the sick role and a discussion of psychosomatic disorders. Have a great rest of your day.

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.