If Alice, caught in Wonderland, ran as fast as she could just to stay in the same place, then many of us feel we are losing ground in our own fast-paced wonderland. Stress is everywhere. No one has enough time. No one has enough money. No one is sure if they will keep their job. There are drugs, crime, AIDS, divorce, suicide, pollution, threats of war, and now threats of terrorist acts. We worry for ourselves and our children. It is no wonder, in our wonderland, that being "stressed out" and "burned out" are commonly understood expressions and commonly observed reactions to modern life. Life can drive us crazy. Reliable estimates suggest that an adult has a fifty-fifty chance of experiencing a mental illness in his or her lifetime. But everyone's chance is not the same. Rather the frequency of mental illness varies by such factors as gender, socioeconomic status, marital status, neighborhood context, and work status. While some would explain these differences as being due to biological predispositions, sociologists wonder if these social factors themselves might cause people to feel distressed or to become mentally ill. Sociologists have long recognized that the organization of society affects the life chances of its members. The sociology of mental illness suggests that the organization of society also affects the mental health of its members. Economic hardship arising from membership in the lower class, for example, can be demoralizing, and it doesn't take much imagination to conclude that poverty might cause distress. This perspective often implicates as direct causes of disorder the day-to-day experiences of individuals that are related to their membership in one social stratum or another. In the past thirty years, a distinctive sociological perspective on the meaning, origins, and treatment of mental illness has emerged to address these concerns. The perspective is intended to explain how we get stressed out by considering how the organization of social life affects our psychological states. This impressive body of knowledge adds important insights into human behavior and into collective responses to certain forms of social behavior. Each of the authors has taught courses in our respective college or university utilizing a sociological approach for understanding mental illness, and we felt it was time to create a new summary of this research. We do not claim that our book represents a complete summary of such research, nor that all scholars would agree with our interpretation and organization of the material. Hence this book isasociology of mental illness, notthesociology of mental illness. The modern world (our wonderland) is a vastly complex place. It is also full of contradictions stemming from that complexity. For instance, contemporary societies create opportunities for people to realize their dreams. There seems to be no end to the things people can do to make a living and to the chances for people to be who they want to be. But this limitless freedom is an illusion. Complex systems require high degrees of control in order to function well; they put limits, therefore, on what people can actually do. Norms of acceptable behavior serve important limiting functions; hence the contradiction that we sometimes experience between personal autonomy and social constraint. This is what Sigmund Freud called "civilization and its discontents." Whatever its origins, mental illness can be described as behavior and thought patterns that are not normative and that require control or constraint because of their potential to disrupt individual and collective arrangements. We would mostly agree that mental illness can have negative effects on individual life chances, disrupt families, and, in some instances, threaten the general community and the continuity of social systems. One means for constraining undesirable behavior is to punish it. Another option is to "treat" it. A casual reviewTausig, Mark is the author of 'Sociology of Mental Illness', published 2003 under ISBN 9780131114784 and ISBN 0131114786.