Abnormal Psychology & Mental Disorders

Abnormal Psychology

Abnormal psychology is the branch of psychology that examines unusual behavioral, emotional & thinking patterns, which may or may not be understood as precipitating a mental disorder. Many behaviors could be considered as abnormal but this particular branch deals with the behavior in a clinical context in general.

  • Mental disorder study involves:

→ Definition-What do you mean by “mental disorder”?

→ Classification-How to distinguish between different mental disorders?

→ Explanation: How to understand mental disorder?

→ Treatment: How to treat mental disorder?

Mental Disorder


In general, the concept of “mental disorder” can be defined as:

  • Culturally independent, bio-medical, value-free concept.
  • Culturally relative, value-based, social concept.

Definitions to be discussed

Mental disorder as a:-

  • “statistical deviation”
  • “dysfunction”
  • “personal discomfort”
  • “maladaptive behavior”
  • “norm or value violation”

1. Mental disorder as a statistical deviance

→ When the ability, behavior, or experience is extremely different from average.


  • We want the term disorder to be used to describe some statistically frequent conditions.
  • “Positive” & “negative” deviations cannot be distinguished.
  • We don’t want to classify all “negative deviations a disorder.”

2. Mental disorder as a dysfunction

→ A person has a mental disorder when the mental mechanism is not performing the natural function it is intended to perform.


  • Natural selection doesn’t “design” the mechanisms.
  • There exists a wide range of adaptive functioning for many mechanisms across people and situations (fear response).
  • Many things that we call as a disorder might actually be adaptive reactions.

3. Mental disorder as a personal discomfort

→ If one is experiencing a personal distress.


  • What about the person taking drugs or believing that he is receiving messages from outer-space – w/o experiencing any kind of distress?

4. Mental disorder as a maladaptive behavior

→ If one is engaged in a behavior that prevents him from meeting the demands of life.


  • there exists situations that people should not adapt to. This approach emphasizes “fitting in” as being ultimately important

5. Mental disorder as a “norm / value violation”

→ If one has experiences and exhibits behaviors that are inconsistent with society’s norms and values.


  • Behavior i.e.harmful to oneself or others.
  • Poor reality contact.
  • Emotional reactions of inappropriate nature.
  • Erratic behavior.


  • What if violation is a result of external circumstances.
  • Such criteria is too arbitrary and is open to abuse.

Types of Mental Disorders

  • Autism Spectrum Disorders
  • Attention Disorder (Deficit or Hyperactivity)
  • Bipolar Disorder
  • Borderline Personality Disorder
  • Dissociative Disorders
  • Dual Diagnostic and Integrated Treatment of Mental Illness & Substance Abuse Disorder
  • Eating Disorders
  • Major Depression
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
  • Panic Disorder
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
  • Schizoaffective Disorder
  • Schizophrenia
  • Anxiety disorder; characterized by recurrent, unwanted thoughts (obsessions) and/or Seasonal Affective Disorder
  • Suicide
  • Tourette’s Syndrome

mental illness

Few Disorders in Depth

1. Hypochondria

  • Characterized by the preoccupation with the normal body sensations and & its interpretations and body functions.
  • Physician’s reassurance only increases the hypochondriac’s persistent anxiety about their health.

2. Anxiety Disorder

  • Real or imaginary fears that are difficult to control.
  • 14% of children b/w 9-16 experience an anxiety disorder every year.

3. Bipolar Disorder

  • Extreme mood changes, energy levels and behavior.
  • Manic: extremely high.
  • Depressive: extremely lows.

4. Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

  • Repetitive behaviors (compulsions) such as hand washing, cleaning, counting, checking often performed with the hope of preventing obsessive thoughts or making them go away.
  • Performing the so-called “rituals” as described earlier, provide relief for some time, and not performing them increases anxiety.

5. Depression

  • Prolonged feelings of Helplessness/sadness or hopelessness.
  • Clinical Depression: >= 2 weeks
  • Depression clip

→ Types of Depression

Major: intense (lasts for years)

Mild: less severe (lasts for weaks or months)

Adjustment disorder: reaction to a specific life event (divorcing, breaking up, losing a job etc.)

→ Cause and Effects of Depression


Medical conditions

Traumatic events

Social or environmental: poverty or physical/emotional environment.

→ Symptoms of Depression

Persistent sad and “empty” feelings

Feeling hopeless and/or pessimistic

Feeling guilty, worthless and/or helpless

Irritability, restlessness

Losing interest in activities/hobbies that were pleasurable once

Fatigue and decreased energy

Difficulty in concentrating, remembering and decision making

Insomnia, waking up early morning, or prolonged sleep

Overeating, or loss of appetite

Suicidal thoughts

Persistent aches, headaches, cramps/digestive problems

6. Panic Disorder

→ an uncontrollable panic response to ordinary situations of nonthreatening nature.


  • Sweating; hot or cold flashes; choking or smothering sensations; racing heartbeat; hard breathing; trembling; chest pain; faintness; numbness; nausea; disorientation; feelings of losing control, or losing mind.
  • Panic attacks typically last for 10-15 minutes. A person may feel a little anxious after experiencing a panic attack.

7. Phobia

  • Irrational, involuntary, and inappropriate fears of ordinary situations.
  • People can frequently experience panic attacks when confronted with the situation or object about which they feel phobic.

8. Post Traumatic Disorder

  • An anxiety disorder that might occur after experiencing an event of traumatic nature that causes intense fear, helplessness, or horror.
  • Example: war, natural disasters, rape, accident etc.

mental disorders

Getting Help


Mental Disorders can be severely serious but they can be treated.

Treating Disorders takes: time, persistence & patience.