American Sociological Association

Cultural Guides, Cultural Critics: Distrust of Doctors and Social Support during Mental Health Treatment

Research on relationships and health often interprets culture as the passively transmitted “content” of social ties, an approach that overlooks the influence of cultural resources on relationships themselves. I propose that mental health patients seek social support partly based on cultural resources held by their network members, including members’ medical knowledge and beliefs. I test hypotheses using data from the Indianapolis Network Mental Health Study, an egocentric network survey of new mental health patients (N = 152) and their personal relationships (N = 1,868). Results from random-intercept regressions show that patients obtain support from network members who trust doctors and who have experience with mental problems. In contrast, network members who distrust doctors disproportionately cause problems for patients. I discuss how cultural resources can categorize network members as supportive cultural guides or disruptive cultural critics. Reconsidering how culture shapes relationships clarifies the role of networks during illness management and illustrates their potentially harmful effects.


William R. McConnell





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