With people often misusing mental health terms, it can become difficult to truly understand the meaning of mental health. Are people just exaggerating? What can we do if people are truly struggling? Before answering these questions, I thought it’d be best to answer what are mental health illnesses? Let me know if this has been useful.
The Frugal Frenchie
In the past, before mental health awareness, people would describe those, who showed “abnormal” behaviour as mad, crazy, or other derogatory words. This is something I’ve mentioned in a previous post about mental health stigma, so make sure to read that too.
Now, the sheer idea of “abnormal,” is controversial. What does this mean, exactly? Traditionally, it’d be defined as a behaviour or act that doesn’t conform to societal standards, expectations or norms. This is all subjective, however: whose norms are they? Who is establishing them? People’s behaviour, or judgements, are 100% subjective. Even our self-judgements are not necessarily fair representations, as our beliefs can be distorted.
As a matter of fact, in clinical psychology, “abnormal,” behaviour is not defined or measured according to how strange an act or behaviour is, how unjustified or irrational it may seem. It’s defined by the degree of interference the behaviour has on life, work and relationships. When somebody says “I love having my desk tidy, I’m so OCD about it,” that is not interfering with your life. It isn’t something that stops you working, restricts you doing activities you love and so on: that’s an incorrect and potentially offensive way of using the term OCD.
The degree to how a behaviour interferes with one’s life is an essential symptom for many mental health illnesses. Otherwise, it would be very hard to establish when somebody’s negative thoughts were just due to a bad week, or if it was associated with ill mental health.
Cultural and societal norms do not make the definition of “abnormal.”