While the life of Socrates is often taught in school, his death is often glanced over. Socrates was sentenced to death by an Athenian council for “corrupting the youth,” with his teachings and encouragement of discourse. What is truly fascinating is how Socrates handles these charges. Though he knew that his political enemies were seeking to imprison and execute him, Socrates chose not to flee his city-state. In his work, Crito, Socrates explains that the rules that govern society were what had allowed him to live his life in the first place and that he would continue to honor these rules, even if it meant his death (Arshadnejad, 2018; University of Tennessee, 2021).
Modern sociologists and historians credit these musings as the first invocation of the social contract. The sociological theory of the existence of the social contract states that members of a society enter into a metaphorical contract to follow rules and behave in a socially acceptable manner. Furthermore, the breaking of the social contract removes the violator from society as a whole (D’Agostino et al., 2017; Silvers & Francis, 2005).
I bring this up because social contract theory plays a large role in how we as a society approach mental health. Traditionally speaking, both physical and mental illness have been seen as a deviation from the norm, thereby breaking the social contract. Because of this, individuals struggling with illness have historically been ostracized from the community at-large. However, as we’ve already learned it is through community and social support that people heal the best (Reblin & Uchino, 2008)!
As we’ve laid out, health is as much of a social issue as it is a physical one. That’s why we must be tackling issues of mental health both in the laboratory and in everyday society. By working to reduce stigma and educate the population about mental health, we all work toward redefining the terms of the social contract. Society should be designed to bring communities together, regardless of disability. By taking the time to read our articles and educate yourself, you are taking a step toward a more equitable society designed to accommodate all people!