1- The view of the individual in society which underlies the interactionist perspective is that the individual acts depending on their specific view of the social world, how they see certain situations in the context of their lives has a major impact on how they undertake certain situations and make their decisions. People make decisions on the basis of the meanings that things have for them, and these meanings derive from social interactions.
2- Mental illness is dependent upon the way in which the individual defines the situations because decisions always have to be made in context with regards to the individual’s state of mind. What is worrying to one person may not be to another, for example, in the film One flew over the cuckoo’s nest, when Macmurphy finds out that many of the people on the ward that he had been associating with where staying at the institution voluntarily, he was extremely shocked, this was because from his viewpoint life was an enjoyable experience and by living inside the hospital they were missing out on it, and that they didn’t need to be there at all. But from the viewpoint of the patients, they needed to be there because they defined their own situations as too hard to cope with in the outside world.
Mental illness is regarded as when the individual cannot cope with the demands of life, but because everyone has different limits to what they can cope with; this definition becomes somewhat less usable. One person may experience a negative event, and continue to perceive it in such a negative way that they lapse into a deep depression and develop a personality disorder; we would define this as a mentally ill person. But on the other hand, another person may experience a similar event, but they will perceive it in a more positive light and thus continue with their life unhindered, because the two people defined their situations differently, their outcomes differed also.
This is most apparent throughout the film because of the difference in situations of Macmurphy, and most of the other patients on the ward who are there voluntarily. Macmurphy regards himself as sane, but he is forced to be in the hospital, whereas most of voluntary patients seem to think there is something wrong with them. If the situations of the voluntary patients were switched and applied to Macmurphy, then the outcome would be very different.
For example, Billy Bibbit, one of the patients who are on the world voluntarily, claimed to afraid of the outside world, but if his situation was applied to Macmurphy’s life, Macmurphy wouldn’t have claimed to be mentally ill and checked himself into the mental institution. Billy’s situation was judged by himself in his own context and he believed he could not cope with the outside world. Many people find their lives too hard to cope with and claim to be suffering from things such as depression, but when their situation is explained to an outsider, the outsiders view of the situation may be very different, therefore in some ways, mental illness could be considered to be only existing in context.
3- Power and authority can be defined as having a certain amount of control over a person or groups of people; this can be through things such as having a higher status then the other, which grants control. In One flew over the cuckoo’s nest, many different characters have power and authority over others. The doctors and psychiatrists generally have the most power, as they administrate and control everyone below them. Nurse Ratchet is probably the most dominant and obvious authority figure that the patients experience in the film, she controls the time the patients get up, have their medication, conduct their activities, and even in the group therapy sessions Nurse Ratchet is the one who decides when each person is allowed to speak. Nurse Ratchet uses her power and authority to control the orderlies, who in turn control the patients.
Power and authority are huge, if not the most important factors that affect the labelling process. In relation to the film, the patients in the ward are only there because they have been labelled mentally ill, and the people who label them as such are always higher status people than themselves, i.e. ‘ mental health professionals ‘. In the film, Nurse Ratchet uses her authority and exerts it over the patients, by making them discuss their ‘problems ‘she makes the patients subconsciously reinforce their own view of themselves as mentally ill. Without this acceptance of the fact that they are being labelled mentally ill by a person with a higher status than themselves, they may never have proceeded to define themselves as mentally ill in the first place.
Nurse Ratchet, the orderlies and the setting of the hospital all play a part in reinforcing the idea that the people who are in the custody of the hospital are indefinitely ‘mentally ill’. The fact that all the patients must wear uniforms deindividuates them, thus making them less autonomous and more susceptible to the orders and ideas of those in a higher status position than themselves. The hospital is designed to be like a jail, with a strict timetable that controls every aspect of the patients’ lives, this control all adds to the feeling for the patients of not having power over their own lives and that they must be controlled by people with power over them.
Macmurphy is an interesting addition to the hospital group because he brings a different kind of power and authority, he is regarded by most of the patients as superior to them because he does not conform to the rules and values that are instilled by the hospital staff, but he is still technically under the power of the nurses and orderlies. This creates a tense situation in the film, because the patients are torn between two authority sources, the hospital staff are reinforcing the view that they are mentally ill and must be controlled, but Macmurphy attempts to show them that there isn’t a reason that they should be in the hospital at all. The irony is that the patients are always in a position to make a decision about their lives themselves, but they need someone with authority or power over them to help sway their decision.
People are only labelled as deviant or mentally ill because their actions are defined as such by society or a higher power, without authority figures making decisions on who is deviant or who is mentally ill, these labels may not exist because they rely on the application from people of high status, and the acceptance of this label from the person being labelled. Billy Bibbit confesses he is voluntarily in the hospital because he is afraid of the outside world, and it is because this confession is realized and accepted by the medical staff that his label is confirmed, but if this idea was never accepted by the staff ( of higher authority ) then he never would have considered himself mentally ill, so the labelling process is fully dependant on acceptance from a higher status figure.