The Edmondson Blog


The theorist Talcott Parsons described what he called the sick role. He argued that illness is a temporary, medically sanctioned form of deviant behaviour. He went on to suggest that there was a conflict for people labelled ill to, on one hand, get better, and on the other, to continue to enjoy the secondary gains of attention and exemption from normal duties.

Doctors act as the gatekeepers to the sick role, in that they are the ones who decide whether or not a person enters this role. While society must show compassion to those deemed unwell, it must also make sure that the gains are not so great that everyone wants to join in.

The difficulty for doctors is to identify those that are faking from those that are genuinely unwell. It’s a surprisingly common difficulty, and with mental illness it’s especially tricky because psychiatrists aren’t mind readers – diagnosing exactly what is going on inside someone’s head relies on them exhibiting certain symptoms.

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