Mental Illness

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.

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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 cultural difference in behaviour. Deviation from the norms of the more dominant culture is seen as being indicative of an underlying mental health illness. Cardwell, 2003). Each culture has its own subcultures and subgroups that may have different norms and expectations. These subgroups consist of those such as gender, social class and race, which can all change different situations and should be accounted for during the diagnosis of a mental illness.

Research would suggest that particular disorders are more prevalent in certain groups, for example, women are more likely to suffer from depression and eating disorders than men are, (Loewenthal. K. however, pregnancy can lead some women to have post-natal depression, and in addition to this, many women often have feelings of a low mood during their menstrual cycle. Whilst this is true for women, men are more likely to develop alcohol abuse and anti-social disorder than women. (Weiner. I. Et Al. 2003) Gender differences may influence this greatly, as women are more likely to blame themselves for surrounding issues, whilst men would be more likely to blame others as opposed to themselves.

Feelings of guilt and worthlessness often coincide with depression, thus, the difference in numbers of depression in women to men could be explained by gender. (MIND. 2011. ) This would suggest that mental health illness can be culturally relative. Another sub-culture is social class. Cochrane and Stopes-Roe conducted a study in 1980, in which they found that people from a lower social class had more psychiatric problems than those living in within a higher social class. (Online, 2011).

One reason for this could be that those living on a lower income could be leading more stressful lives than those who’s incomes are somewhat higher. The stress of everyday living expenses would be much harsher on individuals living on less money than those who can afford to spend more, not just on household items and bills but other necessities such as health care. Other reasons could be those making the diagnosis. Doctors may be biased and less willing to diagnose those from a middle class background with a mental illness as opposed to those from a lower working class.

Johnstone’s study in 1989 showed that this is what happened when comparing middle and lower class patients with the same symptoms. In some mental health disorders such as schizophrenia, biological causes may be more to blame than factors such as social class, however for those disorders such as depression, social class could be a primary cause. Race could be described as a cause of the development of a mental health disorder. “in the United Kingdom, African-Caribbean immigrants are possibly 7 times more likely to be diagnosed as schizophrenic than whites” (Cardwell. 003).

This could be due to biased diagnosis, and the stress of immigration as living in a new country, often away from family and friends could cause people to feel alone and isolated, thus triggering mental health disorders such as depression. Statistics (Home office 2011) show that the number of mental health disorders in Britain differ greatly from the number of mental health disorders in 2010. Culture, morals and the way in which people live their lives have also changed drastically, which could possibly lead to the change in such figures.

Biological differences would be very unlikely to occur in such a short space of time, thus mental health disorders must be culturally relative. When defining abnormality using the statistical infrequency approach, it is easy to ignore the fact that behaviours in one culture are bound to differ greatly to behaviours in another, thus a type of behaviour that is statistically infrequent in one culture could be more frequent in another. For example, hearing voices in ones head may be described as being abnormal in some cultures, yet would be described as being normal in another.

Some cultures may also view hearing voices as a positive thing, for example, in countries such as Bangladesh, Muslims may think it is perfectly acceptable to hear voices from Allah, whereas in England the individual may be diagnosed as being schizophrenic. (Mindfields. 2011). The deviation from social norms approach to abnormality is bound by culture because social norms differ from culture to culture. Although the model takes culture into account, it ignores subcultures and subgroups and assumes that everyone has the same social norms and values within their culture or subculture.

By using only one criteria for diagnosis, people would be inaccurately diagnosed with having a mental health disorder, thus, the definition is affected drastically by the cultural social norms and would not be suitable for using sinularly as a diagnostic tool for mental health illness. Diagnosing abnormality through the failure to function adequately approach would mean that individuals would be being diagnosed from one single angle of the cultural ideas of how one should be living their everyday life. Because the standard in one culture is being used to measure another culture, a diagnosis from the approach would be extremely inaccurate.

Non-white patients are diagnosed with mental health disorders more than white patients, however, they are classed as failure to function adequately because their lifestyles and values are classed as untraditional. (Cochrane. 2011). Like the deviation from social norms model, the deviation from mental health approach to abnormality is bound by culture. If this definition were to be applied to non-middle class social groups, a higher rate of abnormality would be found than in a middle-class social group. (Online 2011). This approach may be relevant to some cultures but not others, and therefore would not be an accurate measure for abnormality.

In conclusion, each definition of abnormality has its strengths and weaknesses, however it is clear that each approach only looks at one specific angle, as opposed to looking at the wider spectrum. It is possible that some mental health disorders are culturally relative, however as evidence has suggested, others must have a biological cause as the symptoms are the same or very similar in other cultures. Furthermore, this proves that the diagnostic of mental health disorders can be difficult when trying to reach an accurate measure.

When assessing a patient, medical staff must be working to the same guidelines and each endeavour to consider all definitions of abnormality, in addition to taking cultural relativism into account . Medical professors must not be biased against the patient, for example, assuming that because an individual is from a subculture and behaving in a particular way, that they have a mental health disorder. By only taking one definition of abnormality into account, patients would be wrongly diagnosed, and, in some cases cause more stress for the individual.

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.