Mental Abnormality

Essay by PaperNerd ContributorCollege, Undergraduate November 2001

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Critically discuss the concept of mental abnormality. Is it an objective description of an existing type of ill-health, or merely a way in which society labels those who fail to conform to its norms? Justify your answer.

There is still no single agreeable concept of mental abnormality, however, various concepts have been suggested by different psychologists. These concepts are as follows: statistical deviation, social norm deviation, maladaptive behaviour, personal distress and medical disorder. These concepts are not necessarily mutual exclusive.

The statistical deviation concept of abnormality uses human characteristics such as height, weight, and intelligence over an entire population to define abnormality. This concept implies that most people fall around the average human height and the rest are abnormally tall or abnormally short. In other words, this concept is based on statistical frequency, and thus abnormal behaviour is statistically infrequent. Nevertheless, there are problems facing this concept. It would set up the identity "average person"�= "ideal person"�, and therefore would classify a genius or a happy person as abnormal.

Many of the advances made in different areas of our lives such as technology, art, culture and science resulted from people who had taken chances and tried new ways of doing things- people who deviated from the average way of doing things.

The social norm deviation concept of abnormality implies that every society consists of certain standards or norms, and any behaviour that deviates markedly from these, can be considered as abnormal. Examples of these "cultural expectations"� are such as proper dress, how and what to eat and proper behaviour to the elders. Someone who frequently violates these unwritten rules is seen as abnormal. This concept of abnormality is seemingly common sense as norms are so deeply ingrained that they seem absolute. However, this concept of abnormality faces many problems.

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