Definitions of abnormality


Statistical deviation AO1

When someone has a less common characteristic than everyone else. An example of this is IQ and Intellectual disability disorder. The majority of human characteristics cluster around the middle which is seen as the average and normal, with ‘abnormal’ characteristics sitting on the outside. This is normal distribution. For IQ, the average score is 100. Around 2% have a score of 70 which is seen as abnormal and they may then be diagnosed with intellectual disability disorder. The same goes for a score of around 130.

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Statistical deviation AO3

Real life application: Real life application in the diagnosing of IDD. Therefore, there is a place for SD when talking about normal and abnormal behaviours. All assessments of patients with mental health issues have the severity of their symptoms compared to statistical norms. The validity of Statistical norms is increased as it is a useful part of clinical assessment.

Unusual characteristics can be positive: IQ scores of over 130 are just as abnormal as below 70, but this isn’t a bad thing and doesn’t need treatment. Just because very few people display this characteristic, it does make it statistically abnormal but doesn’t mean that it needs treatment. This lowers the validity of Statistical deviation as it means that it wouldn’t be used alone to make a diagnosis.

Not everyone benefits from a label. When someone is living a fulfilled and happy life, there is not benefit to them being labelled as abnormal regardless of how abnormal they are. Someone with a low IQ but not distressed and is capable of working wouldn’t need a diagnosis of IDD. Therefore, this would lower the validity of SD as if they were diagnosed with IDD, and labelled as abnormal, then this may have a negative effect on the way others view them and how they view themselves.

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deviation from social norms AO1

This is when someone deviates from the behaviour seen as the norm for a culture or society. This is when we make a collective judgement as a society for what is right. The norm will be different for each generation and culture so there are not many behaviours that are seen as abnormal, such as homosexuality which is sill considered as abnormal in some cultures, like it was in our culture in the past. An example of Deviation from social norms is Antisocial personality disorder which causes a person to act impulsively, aggressively and irresponsibly. According to DSM-5, one important symptom of APD is failure to conform to the law, which makes them abnormal as they fail to conform to the ‘normal’ moral standards.

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deviation from social norms AO3

Not a sole explanation: Has a real-life explanation in the diagnosis of APD, so there is a place for DSN as an explanation of abnormal and normal behaviours however, there are other factors to consider such as the distress to others caused by APD, such as the failure to function adequately definition. Therefore, the validity is lowered as its not a sole reason for explaining abnormality.

Cultural relativism: Social norms vary a lot from each generation and culture. This means that someone from one culture may label someone from another culture as behaving abnormally according to their standards rather than the other cultures standards. For example, hearing voices may be seen normal in some cultures but in the UK, it is seen as mentally abnormal. This lowers the validity of DSN as it creates problems for people from one culture group living in another culture.

Can lead to human rights abuses: Too much reliance on the deviation from social norms to understand abnormality can lead to systematic abuse of human rights. Looking at historical examples of DSN, such as black slaves running away, it is clear to see that the diagnosis given to them was only there to control the minority ethnic groups. This seems ridiculous nowadays as our social norms have changed. Therefore, this lowers the validity of deviation from social norms. 

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Failure to function adequately AO1

Someone is said to be failing to function adequately when they struggle to maintain eye contact, experience severe distress, and their behaviour becomes dangerous to themselves and others. An example of FFA is IDD. Having a low IQ isn’t the only way to be diagnosed with IDD. To be diagnosed with IDD, you must be failing to function adequately as well as having a low IQ.

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Failure to function adequately AO3

Patient’s perspective: It attempts to include the subjective experience of the individual. It’s not an entirely satisfactory approach as it is difficult to assess distress, but it acknowledges that the experience of the individual is important. It captures the experience of many of the people who need it. This increases the validity of FFA as it is a useful criterion for assessing abnormality. 

Is it simply a deviation from social norms? It is hard to tell when someone is failing to function and when someone is simply just deviating from social norms. We might think that someone who doesn’t have a permanent home or job as failing to function adequately, but those people may just be choosing to have that lifestyle and deviating from social norms. This is similar to people who play extreme sports and are accused of behaving in a maladaptive way, whilst religious or spiritual people are seen as irrational. This is a limitation of FFA as if we treat these behaviours as failures to function, then we risk limiting personal freedom and discriminating against minority groups.

Subjective judgements: When deciding whether a patient is failing to function, someone has to judge whether they are distressed or distressing. Some patients may say they are distressed but judged as not suffering. There are methods of making this judgement as objective as possible. This lowers the validity of FFA as someone has the right to make this decision and could end up making the wrong one, either not get them treatment when they need it, or getting them treatment when they don’t need it.

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Deviation from ideal mental health AO1

This occurs when someone doesn’t meet all the criteria for ideal mental health. Jahoda set the criteria saying that to be in ideal mental health, we must have no symptoms or distress, we are rational and perceive ourselves accurately, we self-actualise, can cope with stress, we have a realistic view of the world, have good self-esteem and a lack of guilt, we are independent of other people, and can successfully work, love and enjoy our leisure. There is some overlap of DIMH and FFA.

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Deviation from ideal mental health AO3

It Is a comprehensive definition: It covers a wide range of criteria for ideal mental health and probably covers all the reasons why someone would seek mental health help. This increases the validity of DIMH as the range of factors discussed in relation to Jahoda’s ideal mental health makes it a good tool for thinking about mental health.

Cultural relativism: Some of the ideas in Jahoda’s classification are specific to western European and north American cultures such as the emphasis on self-actualisation which would be considered as self-indulgent to most of the world as its emphasis is on the individual and not the family or community. This decreases the validity of DIMH as collectivist cultures would be more likely to see individualist cultures as deviating from ideal mental health or seen as deviating from ideal mental health when in an individualist culture as they work more as a community than individuals so may be seen as not self-actualising.

It sets an unrealistically high standard for ideal mental health: Very few people attain all of Jahoda’s criteria for ideal mental health and most of us won’t achieve them all at the same time or keep them up for very long. Therefore, this will see most people as abnormal which we can see as both positive and negative. On the positive side, it makes it clear to people the ways in which they need to seek treatment. At the other extreme, DIMH has no value of thinking about who would benefit from treatment against their will, which therefore lowers the validity of DIMH as its hard to tell if you actually need treatment or not.

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