Mental Illness

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Discuss definitions of mental illness (I.e abnormality) and consider the effects of cultural relativism.

Abnormality is defined in several different ways, and has been categorised into four different definitions. These definitions consist of deviation from social norms, deviation from ideal mental health, statistical infrequency and failure to function adequately. Discuss definitions of mental illness (I.e abnormality) and consider the effects of cultural relativism.

Abnormality is defined in several different ways, and has been categorised into four different definitions. These definitions consist of deviation from social norms, deviation from ideal mental health, statistical infrequency and failure to function adequately. Each definition views abnormality differently, such as behaviour deviating from the statistics, breaking society’s norms, and the way in which an individual is feeling and acting. Cultural relativism, however, acknowledges that what appears to be normal in one culture could be abnormal in another. The definition argues that it would not be appropriate to only take one definition of abnormality into account during the diagnosis of mental illness. This essay will explore and evaluate the definitions of mental illness in relation to cultural relativism.

There are several different definitions that describe abnormality, the first being statistical infrequency which defines abnormality from behaviours that deviate from collected average statistics. According to this model, those behaviours that are different to statistics would be described as being abnormal, however this would be deemed inaccurate as statistics are generalised and ignore the values and social norms of the individual.

The deviation from ideal mental health definition of abnormality identifies several different characteristics that people should have in order for them to remain mentally stable. If individuals do not posses the identified characteristics, they would be abnormal according to this definition. Although the model acknowledges the behaviours of individuals with a mental health disorder, it focuses on the collective rather than the individual, and does not take into account the thoughts and feelings of different people.

Another definition of abnormality is failure to function adequately, which describes abnormality by taking into account the thoughts, feelings and participation in day-to-day activities within a person’s life. It is the only definition that acknowledges the thoughts of the individual, however it measures the extent of an individual’s issue, rather than being a true definition of abnormality. Dysfunction alone, does not mean that that an individual has a mental health disorder, (Comer. 2000) For example, in religion people may fast and only eat at certain times, however it would only become abnormal behaviour when it began to affect day to day life.

The deviation from social norms approach to abnormality takes into account the breaking of society’s standards or norms. The model disregards the idea that society’s standards or norms will differ from society to society, and therefore it is not possible to generalise society’s standards in relation to diagnosing a mental health disorder.

Cultural relativism identifies that each definition of abnormality ignores the individual’s culture, in addition to suggesting that ethnocentrism could form a barrier when making a diagnosis through use of the definitions. The ideas of cultural relativism suggest that by not taking into account a person’s culture, you are unable to make an accurate diagnosis of mental illness. For example, the social norms and expectations in one culture would differentiate to those in another culture, and it is therefore impossible to provide a clear definition of abnormality that applies to the entire population. It cannot be appropriate for someone to analyse an individual from another culture for mental illness due to the...
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