Objective: The paper aims to discuss social roles performed by the mentally ill as well as the changes that have occurred within this area in the last few decades. Review: We have presented the sources of social scientific interest in the area of health and sickness, along with the basic theoretical assumptions behind various concepts, such as Parson's social roles, Freidson's secondary deviance, and Goffman's stigma theory as well Akers and Krohn's social learning theory. Changes that have taken place in the last few years in the type of social roles that are played by the mentally ill have also been discussed, with an evaluation of the contribution made by community psychiatry. A number of public opinion surveys have been referred to, the recent ones including CBOS 2005, 2007, 2008, 2012 and also the OBOP 1975. Conclusion: Each individual performs many social roles yet people who suffer from mental disorders face serious limitations in this area. A few decades ago, ubiquitously our society hardly allowed any roles to be played by the mentally ill, who were often isolated and excluded from the social sphere. This situation has improved considerably with the arrival of community-based psychiatry and the creation of such facilities as day wards, patient's clubs, training apartments and protected ployment.
Patients have now more opportunities to play more roles related to their recovery process, social interactions and professional life. However, there is still an urgent need to break through common stereotypes and raise the level of knowledge about mental disorders in Poland. Public opinion polls reveal that there is still much to be done in this field.