Criteria for Distinguishing Abnormal Behavior
Sometimes it is a straight-forward matter, and we can all agree on who is normal or abnormal; other times it is difficult.
BAD criteria for distinguishing normal from abnormal behavior:
If a person deviates from the cultural standards of the culture in which they live, but maintains the cultural standards of the culture they were raised in, this is probably NOT a sign of mental illness.
More USEFUL criteria for distinguishing normal from abnormal behavior:
Maladaptive behavior refers to behavior that goes against a persons' own goals or best interests. For example, if you are hoping to keep your job and get promoted, it is maladaptive to miss work frequently and come in late on the days that you do show up. On the other hand, if your goal in life is to get fired and collect unemployment, this same behavior is much less maladaptive. Maladaptive behavior is often a clue that there is an underlying mental illness.
Hallucinations - false sensory perceptions, where people see or hear things that are not there - probably reflect the most severe form of reality distortion.
Delusions - false beliefs about reality, such as thinking that you are the Queen of England, or that the CIA and FBI are out to get you - represent another form of reality distortion. Some delusions, such as thinking you are the Queen of England (unless you really are) or that the CIA and FBI are out to get you (unless you are an international criminal) are very flagrant, and are strongly associated with severe mental illness. Other delusions are more subtle, but may also indicate underlying mental illness. People who have anorexia (a form of eating disorder in which people essentially starve themselves to death) seem themselves as unattractively fat, whereas other people see them as unattractively thin. People who are depressed are likely to view themselves as worthless, unlikeable people; while others typically do not see depressed people in so harsh a light.
A person who meets any of these criteria may be considered to have abnormal behavior, indicating a psychological disorder. It is not necessary to meet all of the criteria to be diagnosed with a disorder.
Now that I've made distinguishing between normal and abnormal behavior sound easy, I need to remind you that it is not always that easy. In fact, the study performed by Donald Rosenhan, in 1973, tells us that under some circumstances even trained mental health professionals have difficulty in distinguishing normal people from those who are mentally ill. You might think that this study no longer applies because it was done nearly 30 years ago, but I think that Rosenhan would have similar findings if he repeated his study today. In fact, his observations of mental hospitals in the early 70s are very similar to my own observations in a public mental hospital in the early 90s. (I was a volunteer, not a patient!)
If you have not already done so, read the paper "On being sane in insane places" by Donald Rosenhan.
Now let's apply what you have learned to a real-life case, that of Dr. Rosemary Rodgers, a former U.S. Army physician who has been diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic. (Schizophrenia was the diagnosis received by all of the pseudopatients in Rosenhan's study.) She does not agree with this diagnosis. Read about her, read her letters, then post your opinions about Rosemary Rodgers on the WebCT Discussion Area. (Respond to the posting with subject heading: Dr. Rosemary Rodgers - Victim of persecution or mental illness?)
Dr. Rosemary F. Rodgers has been diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic, yet she believes that she is simply experiencing a normal response to stress. Her letters are presented on this site. http://www.tapping.org/
Last updated on Tuesday June 10, 2008.