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Deviation from Social Norms

Social norms are the unwritten rules of behaviour for a situation. If people break social norms, their behaviour is said to be deviant. This in turn could be a symptom of a mental illness. For example, schizophrenics often show inappropriate levels of emotion i.e. laughing at a death.

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Evaluation: Deviation from Social Norms

Y: We expect people to behave in a certain way. If they do not, this helps us to help them seek medical treatment.                                                                                                                                                         X: Cultural Differences: What is considered abnormal in one culture may be normal in the other. Also, people often regard the behaviour of white Western cultures as the norm, and anything else to be deviant.                                                                                                                                                          X: Context: Whether or not a behaviour is abnormal can depend on the context in which it takes place.    X: Control: Some behaviours are labelled as abnormal in order to impose control. For example, people who go against the industrial work ethic in Japan are labelled as mentally ill.                                          X: Eccentric or Abnormal?: Is a person’s behaviour simply eccentric or abnormal? Does it take place to the point where you could consider it to be a mental illness?                                                                 X: Abnormal or Criminal?: People who break the law are not seen to have a psychological disorder, but what normal person could commit crimes such as ****, murder etc?                                                X: Change With the Times: People’s view of what is abnormal has changed over time. For example, until 1967, homosexuality was a criminal offence

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Failure to Function Adequately

People with mental disorders often cannot cope with aspects of their daily lives, and so this needs to be taken into account when diagnosing someone with a mental disorder.

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Evaluation: Failure to Function Adequately

Y: This definition is the most humane, as the person themselves decides if they seek medical harm.

X: Not the Whole Picture: A person’s failure to function may not necessarily define if they are abnormal. Comer 2005 points out that a behaviour may be abnormal, but it may not affect a person’s ability to function.

X: Exceptions to the Rule: There are certain situations where this definition cannot be applied i.e. exam stress.

X: Cultural Issues: A person’s functioning may be effected by cultural issues. Cochrane and Sasidharan 1995 points out that high levels of prejudice can lead to psychological disorder.

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Deviation From Ideal Mental Health

Put forward by Maria Johoda (1985), this definition defines abnormality in terms of the absence of six key characteristics that should be displayed by a mentally healthy person

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Deviation From Ideal Mental Health: Key Characteri

‐ Positive View of Self: People with a positive view of self should display characteristics such as a good level of self respect and self esteem. People who have a positive attitude to themselves have learned to live with their problems, and view themselves realistically and objectively. Johoda acknowledges that it is not always possible to retain a positive view of self due to factors such as being made to feel small/demoralised.

‐ Actualization of Potential: Abraham Maslow (1986)‐ People have a potential which they strive to fulfil. Abnormality occurs when we are prevented from fulfilling this potential.

‐ Resistance to Stress: Have strategies that enable you to deal with stress well. Research has found that people with high levels of anxiety are more likely to develop psychological disorders.

‐ Personal Autonomy: Autonomous people are self sufficient, rely on their own resources and are not dependent on the behaviour others.

‐ An Accurate Perception of Reality: View things in real life contexts. Don’t be too optimistic/pessimistic or look at things through “tinted glasses”.

‐ Adapting and Mastering the Environment: Be competent in all areas of life and be able to adapt to change. People who are unable to adapt to change may be seen as abnormal by those who have adapted to the environment.

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Evaluation: Deviation From Ideal Mental Health

Y: This is definition is a refreshing approach, as it focuses on the positive aspects of mental health.

X: Difficulty of Self Actualization: Many people find it hard to fulfill their potential. If this a characteristic that should be displayed by a mentally healthy person, many people could be regarded as abnormal

X: Benefits of Stress: In some situations, allowing stress is a positive thing.

X: Cultural Limitations: Johoda’s characteristics are based on the ideas of Western fulfilment‐ these may be different in other cultures. Actualization of potential and personal autonomy may be viewed as abnormal in cultures such as India where there is a great duty of care to others.

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Rosenhan and Seligman 1989

These psychologists proposed seven features which may indicate a person isn’t functioning normally. The more of these features a person displays, the more likely it is that they are unable to function:

‐ Personal Distress: The person is upset or depressed, and is psychologically suffering in some way.

‐ Maladaptive Behaviour: Behaviour that prevents a person from achieving life goals, fulfilling potential etc.

‐ Unconventional/Rare Behaviour: Where a person behaves differently to the prescribed social norms for that situation.

‐ Observer Discomfort: Behaviour that makes other people feel uncomfortable.

‐ Violation of Moral Standards: Where moral standards such as laws, taboos etc are violated, this could be deemed as abnormal.

‐ Unpredictability and Loss of Control: With most people, you can predict how they behave. In contrast, this kind of behaviour is highly unpredictable and inappropriate for the situation.

‐ Irrationality and Incomprehensibility: Where there is no good reason why a person should behave in a particular way.

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Cultural Relativism

Cultural relativism is the idea that a person’s behaviour can only be judged on the ideas of their culture alone, meaning there can no universal judgement as to what is abnormal. The concept was demonstrated in research by McCajor Hall. Hall identified 36 groups of culture bound syndromes‐ disorders that are only diagnosed in one particular culture. The concept of cultural relativism poses limitations to each definition of abnormality.

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The Impact of Culture

Often, abnormality is diagnosed by middle class white people. Researchers argue this leads to certain people having higher diagnosis rates than others:

Research suggests that some people are naturally more prone to psychological disorders i.e. women who have fluctuating hormones.

Fernando (1991) Fernando argues that diagnosis is a social exchange between the patient and the healthcare professional, during which a number of misunderstandings can take place: Language difficulties, lack of understanding, different morals, lack of trust.

Winter (1999) Winter argues that healthcare professionals show a deliberate bias which leads to some groups of people having higher diagnosis rates than others: “the training and upbringing of Western healthcare professionals may lead them to be biased against, or insensitive to, the needs of black, working class or female clients”.

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The Impact of Class

Often, abnormality is diagnosed by middle class white people. Researchers argue this leads to certain people having higher diagnosis rates than others:

Howell (1981) says the experiences of British women predispose them to depression, so healthcare professionals often diagnose the situation and not the individual.

Cochrane (1995) says that depression is linked to childhood abuse and gender identity which makes women more vulnerable.

Psychological disorders are high in unemployed men. Johnstone (1989) says that by labelling this as a psychological disorder, the stigma associated with mental illness means the person themselves isn’t looked at.

Bennett (1995) says that the stereotyping of men in industrial roles prevents them from seeking help.

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