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Mental Health & Psychopathology: Definition & Dimensions

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  • 0:01 Mental Health and…
  • 2:03 Key Dimensions of Diagnosis
  • 5:21 Additional Factors
  • 7:23 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Devin Kowalczyk

Devin has taught psychology and has a master's degree in clinical forensic psychology. He is working on his PhD.

In this lesson, we will explore some of the basic ways that we differentiate between mental health and psychopathology. Included in this is looking at social, behavioral, thought, and emotional processes.

Mental Health and Psychopathology Defined

Mental health is a positive mental status, with an individual capable of coping with normal life stressors as well as the ability to work productively. Psychopathology is a study of mental and social disorders and also a synonym for mental illness. 'Break it down,' says the rapper. 'Psycho' translates to 'mind,' 'pathos' means 'illness or disease,' and '-ology' means 'to study.' We add in the social because many mental illnesses have a direct social effect, and in fact that is the reason many people get diagnosed. When we talk about mental health, it is usually in a negative context, when an individual has lost their mental health due to some unusual stressor, like their house being destroyed by a tornado or Godzilla, or they are afflicted by some form of psychopathology. The thing is, people with mental diseases don't have a particular look or appearance to them.

If psychopathology does not have a look, and it does not always have a measurable and biological component, like cancer or tuberculosis, how do mental health professionals diagnose it? After looking at the key dimensions for diagnosis, we will look into why ethnicity and aging are important to the diagnostic process.

Key Dimensions of Diagnosis

There are four main components to diagnosing mental illness, or psychopathology. While we can discuss each one separately, it is worth noting that these differentiations are somewhat artificial. Social issues are influenced by behaviors, behaviors are influenced by thoughts and emotions. Emotional issues color social situations. It's kind of a Venn diagram except there is a massively overlapped area or a tangled-up ball of Christmas lights that will never get untangled.

When it comes to psychopathology, one of the most important in my opinion is the social dimension, which deals with interpersonal or public interactions with other individuals. If you live in a sufficiently sized city, you will undoubtedly have come across people who are talking to themselves. If you have been to certain hospitals or other places, you will likely have seen people who appear to be in a coma but without a medical reason. One of the key elements to diagnosis is if there is interference with normal social interactions. People who talk to the voices in their head make others uncomfortable, and people who don't interact with others at all frighten people.

Overlapping the social dimension is the behavioral dimension, which is any action taken by the individual. This is a fairly widespread dimension, covering everything from how one dresses themselves to feeding themselves to how they socially interact with others. The reason I have placed the social dimension first is that when people are being weird in social contexts, then there is an increased likelihood the men in white coats will be called out. Behaviors typically include being erratic or excessively hyper, being inactive to the point of not taking care of basic hygiene, interacting with hallucinations, and many more things. Every diagnosis, and there are over 100, have different behavioral components to each. Some overlap, with things like bipolar disease and schizophrenia having some behaviors in common, while others are unique and a little bizarre, like individuals with autism unable to make eye contact.

The last two dimensions we will roll into one large one. The thought and emotions dimensions deal with the internal landscape and reactions of an individual. Mental illness really boils down to there being some kind of regulation problem with thoughts and emotions, which is translated into behaviors and social interactions. People who think differently, drastically differently, can have difficulties with social issues, and they will likely behave differently as well. For example, an individual who claims the world is really made of pudding and will argue with others vehemently about it is experiencing thought disturbances. When it comes to emotional disturbances, it is estimated that nearly everyone will go through some depression in their life. It is sometimes referred to as the common cold of our times. Other emotional issues include excessive rage, inappropriate responses (such as laughing when others cry or not having any emotions) and highly variable emotions (such as flipping back and forth between love and hate for a single person).

Additional Factors

We have discussed how social, behavioral, thoughts, and emotions all come together to result in a diagnosis. Two factors that a good psychologist will consider are ethnicity and age. When it comes to ethnicity, we have to remember what is and is not culturally appropriate. In some cultures, it may be perfectly normal for families to teach their children to slaughter farm animals. However, in a more industrialized place, forcing children to kill animals might earn a family a visit from Child Protective Services.

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