• Question: Which methods of defining abnormality do you believe is the best to use?(statistical infrequency,failure to function adequately, deviation from social norms or deviation from ideal mental health)

    Asked by Molly. to Rob, Olly, Nicola, Jasmin, Dennis, Caroline on 12 Jun 2019. This question was also asked by Factor50.
    • Photo: Robert Dempsey

      Robert Dempsey answered on 12 Jun 2019:


      I have real issues with the use of ‘abnormality’ in relation to mental health. I think there are lots of problems associated with defining what is ‘normal’ and what is ‘abnormal’. I think it is quite normal to experience changes in your mental health so we shouldn’t treat someone who is having quite severe difficulties as ‘abnormal’. In fact, I ban the use of ‘abnormality’ in my mental health teaching and I try to get students to think about a spectrum of mental health where everyone is located but some people have more difficulties than others. Focusing on social norms in terms of defining ‘normality’ is very problematic for me too – social norms can be specific to specific groups (e.g. cultures) so what is ‘normal’ in one group may not be in another group. Often these ‘norms’ are determined by Western, English-speaking cultures which may not be relevant or translatable to other groups or cultures. I think we do need to consider how someone’s mental health status is impacting on their day-to-day functioning and living – if someone is having difficulty doing the things they’d usually do because of their mental health, then this to me suggests that there is an issue here.

    • Photo: Dennis Relojo-Howell

      Dennis Relojo-Howell answered on 12 Jun 2019:


      Failure to function adequately. Because being labelled as ‘normal’ or ‘abnormal’ can have profound consequences, we have to consider ‘abnormality’ within a range of contexts.

    • Photo: Nicola Johnstone

      Nicola Johnstone answered on 13 Jun 2019:


      I think it’s less about thinking in terms of abnormality. I mentioned on another question that mental health ‘issues’ are functions and processes that everyone has and experiences. There are deviations on measures, some people cope well, others don’t but this can be circumstantial.
      Definitions would depend on why it was necessary.

    • Photo: Oliver Clabburn

      Oliver Clabburn answered on 13 Jun 2019:


      ‘Abnormality’ is a tricky concept, mainly- what is ‘normal’, and therefore, what is abnormal? I think if we really thought about it (and perhaps spoke to lots of other people) we’d find we all do some ‘abnormal’ stuff each and every day! I think abnormality therefore needs to be considered in terms of the context in which it is happening.

    • Photo: Jasmin Moon

      Jasmin Moon answered on 13 Jun 2019:


      Psychologists tend to avoid using the term ‘abnormal psychology’ nowadays because it implies that there is both a normal and an abnormal, whereas actually there is just psychology.
      Our individual experiences mean that what is normal for one person might not seem normal to another person, so a better way to determine whether that person has good mental health or not is to look at how they function both in society and in themselves. It’s also really important to listen to how the person themselves feels because they know themselves far better than any health professional does!

    • Photo: Caroline Brett

      Caroline Brett answered on 15 Jun 2019:


      Although, like others, I tend to shy away from the term ‘abnormality’, I believe the best approach is an individual one – what is ‘normal’ for that person? How does what they are experiencing now differ from that? The easiest way to do that is in terms of function – are they able to do the things that they want to do?

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