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The pain of anomie

Don’t be afraid to be there for people in need./ Alec Salloum
Don’t be afraid to be there for people in need./ Alec Salloum

If you can’t feel good with others, you might be tempted to push yourself out of sight.

Author: Audrey Le Pioufle

What exactly is “anomie”? I first encountered that word in a book about French communities in Canada. The author used “anomie” to describe this state of being shared by Francophones living in places far from their place of origin. It may be characterized by loneliness that may translate itself into a “mal de vivre” resulting from a lack of integration into a community.

The Larousse (2010) dictionary gives the following definition: “State of disorganization of a group, of a society, due to the partial or total disappearance of the norms and values common to his members.” It is hence a social disorganization caused by the absence of common norms.

Nowadays, more and more teenagers and 20-year olds are feeling an intruder growing in them, encouraging them to withdraw slowly from society due to their own life experiences like unemployment or bullying. Because they feel wounded, they suffer so much so that they start thinking that no one cares about them. They feel that they do not belong in any society. They isolate themselves from society and people judge them and call them “weirdos”, reinforcing their belief that no one cares about them. If nothing is done about this, the now-marginalized people tend to become suicidal; society considers this to be a personal mental illness issue.

I believe French sociologist Emile Durkheim said that a lack of social integration leads to anomie. Suicidal people would, by definition, be closely associated with this concept. In my opinion, we need to address our problem of being unable to integrate some people into society.

The main determinant of anomie is not a mental illness, but rather in a social problem. Illnesses such as depression and anxiety disorders could be a symptom of a much deeper problem. In sociology, one school of thought holds that in order to understand an individual, one needs to see the world through their eyes. This would prevent others to label people as disturbed.

Labeling one’s behavior is unjust and dangerous. It only reflects the fact that some groups do not share the same social conventions as other groups. I believe that mental illness is a label unfortunately conferred on too many individuals who act and behave differently from everyone else. Because people love to classify and analyze things (especially unusual things), and love to think that they are superior to others, being different may now be considered as a medical condition! This labeling system’s impact causes ‘deviant’ people to self-identify themselves as such and internalize their ‘wrong’ behaviours; instead of solving the social integration problem, we exacerbate it.

My point is in Western society, the dominant view is that personal problems are seen as individual and not social problems. Problems that occur in one’s life are always defined as the individual’s responsibility. My question to you is the following: how can one develop personal problems without interacting with others? It’s impossible to develop problems if you’re not interacting with other people, making all individual problems social ones. We are not alone, living in the ether of space; we live in a close-knit society. This leads me to the conclusion that people interact with others on a regular basis, creating or dissolving social ties and problems do occur, like anomie and “mental illness”.

My wish is that when you meet someone who has problems, try to put yourself in their shoes. Their problems are likely related to a social issue, meaning they are not alone experiencing them. I believe we, as a society, focus too much on the symptoms and not enough on the causes of what we are observing. I am begging you to go beyond the first impressions and delve deeper into the real causes. It is in our duty to make informed decisions by understanding how social misconceptions can impact others’ lives and helping people to integrate into our society. Be respectful of others, no matter what their situations are.

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