When I was nineteen, I had one of the most frightening experience of my life. I was working at a summer job where I struck up an acquaintance with Luis, one of the full-time employees. Luis was a recent immigrant from the Domician Republic, and I was very interested in learning about his country, so we began taking breaks and occasional lunches together. I thought we were becoming good friends – but suddenly Luis changed. He avoided my company and soon stopped talking to me altogether unless our jobs required it. Even worse, I could sometimes see him staring at me from across the room in a very cold and unfriendly way; and when I passed his desk, he would glance at me and then begin muttering angrily under his breath. I couldn’t figure out what was wrong, so I asked Luis if I had offended him in some way. “You know what you have done!” he grumbled between clenched teeth; and he wouldn’t say another word. When I asked other employees what was wrong, they told me Luis was sure that I was trying to steal his girlfriend, Maris, and that I had been saying nasty things about him to the boss. These ideas were completely false: Maria didn’t like him and was definitely not his girlfriend, and I was going steady and was not interested in another romance. Also, I knew for a fact that I had never said anything negative about him to anyone. The situation grew more tense until one day Luis actually followed me home on the subway. He kept fingering some heavy object in his pocket, and I was sure it was a gun. When I got off the train, I turned to face him, hoping that the crowd would prevent him from doing anything violent. Luckily, a police officer was standing close by on the platform, so Luis never got off the train. Next day, he was not at work and I learned that he had been arrested for assaulting a neighbour; I never saw him again.
These events took place almost forty years ago, when Robert. A. Baron was a Biology major and this close brush with violence and with a person showing serious signs of serious mental illness, influenced his decision to become a psychologist.
By reading the experience narrated above, one can easily analyse that the colleague was mentally disordered. But, what precisely are mental disorders? This question is much harder to answer than might be assumed at first, because in fact, there is no hard and fast dividing line between behaviour that is normal and behaviour that is somehow abnormal. Rather, these are simply end points on an unbroken dimension. Most psychologists do agree that mental disorders involve patterns of behaviour or thought that are judged to be unusual or atypical in the society and that they generate distress and are maladaptive. In technical terms, to define, mental disorders are disturbances of an individual’s behavioural or psychological functioning that are not culturally accepted and that leads to psychological distress, behavioural disability and/or impaired overall functioning.
Generally, the masses and we too, fail to understand that psychological disorders are not an out of the world phenomenon. They are totally related and connected to our experiences with the environment and society and ourselves and our personalities. They arise from the mesh of the cognitive processes going on incessantly in our minds and brain.
There are a lot of approaches to analyse the roles of different systems and factors in the occurrence of mental disorders. One of these approaches, the biological model, emphasizes the role of the nervous system in mental disorders. This approach seeks to understand such disorders in terms of malfunctioning of portions of the brain, imbalances in various neurotransmitters and genetic factors.
However, it is clear that biological factors are not the entire story where mental disorders are concerned. Often, such disorders occur without any apparent underlying biological cause. This suggests that psychological factors, too, can be important. The psychological perspective emphasizes the role of basic psychological processes and cognitive factors in the occurrence of mental disorders.
Sociocultural factors too play a role in mental disorders. There is an important role of social variables poverty, unemployment, inferior education, and prejudices as potential causes of mental disorders. External factors such as negative environment, a disadvantaged position in society, and cultural traditions can play a role in mental disorders.
A modern perspective on mental disorders is the Diathesis-Stress model. This view suggests that mental disorders result from the joint effects of two influences; a predisposition for a given disorder, termed a Diathesis and second, stressors in an individual’s environment that tend to activate or stimulate the predisposition or vulnerability.
There are several different systems for classifying mental disorders that exist, e.g. the International Statistical Classification of Diseases, Injuries, and Causes of Death, World Health Organization,1992. However, the one that is most widely used is the Diagnostic And Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders- IV (DSM-IV), published by American Psychiatric Society Association. The manual is designed to help all mental health practitioners correctly identify psychological disorders. DSM-IV classifies disorders along five axes along with classifying them into various categories like anxiety disorders, somatoform disorders, substance related disorders, etc.
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