Discourse and awareness around mental health abnormalities and disorders have received a generous degree of exposure in recent times. Most discussions in this respect, open the public’s eyes to the struggles of experiencing such disorders, their characteristics, and the various ways in which you can cope with them. Meanwhile, psychologists continue to ponder upon one essential question- what is the true cause behind mental disorders?
When it comes to dealing with mental issues, the first step, of course, is diagnosing someone with a disorder- acknowledging that they have rats in the attic. Then comes the much tougher task of pinning down what exactly led them there. Logic tells us that most problems can be fixed much more effectively once you know what caused them. The answer might seem obvious and easy, but it is not. Especially when it comes on a generalized platform, psychology struggles to provide a uniform answer to what exactly lies at the root of mental disorders.
Several opinions persist. Some theorists believe biology has a very significant part to play as far as disorders are concerned. This claim cannot be disproven. Statistical research has proven that most of psychotic disorders are rooted in genetics, at least to a degree. Additionally, brain abnormalities too could make one more susceptible to a mental abnormality more than others. This is particularly relevant to disorders like schizophrenia. Then there exists the largely decisive role played by our hormones that regulate our emotional stability and affect directly our mood. For instance, serotonin and norepinephrine abnormalities have been correlated as causes of depression.
Many other psychologists assert the cause behind a psychological disorder will also be psychological. Opinions from various schools within psychology contribute in this respect, all claiming that the major precursor to a disorder is the effect of external and internal stressors (stimuli that cause stress, discomfort, etc.) on one’s personality. Psychoanalysts claim this stems from conflicts within the unconscious, humanistic psychologists speculate a rift between one’s self-image and reality, cognitive theorists attribute it to ineffective mental processes, while behaviourists think it a consequence of learning.
The third perspective includes a social approach. Seeing mental disorders as a consequence of social conditions and cultural systems such as one’s class, gender, religion and race. After all, it makes sense if a woman belonging to a misogynistic way of life has a disorder like the dependent personality disorder.
So which approach is the most effective? As can be guessed, the most holistic way of tracing back a disorder to its origins is by taking into perspective everything that can be taken. In fact, the systems approach promotes exactly this, where it proposes a biopsychosocial model that takes an in-depth analysis of a patient. Most of the manuals used to diagnose disorders, including the DSM-IV published by the American Psychological Association, take account of medical history, psychological inferences as well as social backgrounds.
Models like the diathesis-stress model suggest that one’s biological predisposition to a disease combined with stressors cause a disorder. Thus, say an anxiety-prone soldier (biological predisposition) who has scarring experiences during war (stressor) has a much more likelihood of developing PTSD (Post-traumatic Stress Disorder) than a soldier who has no proneness to anxiety, or a man who is anxiety-prone but never has to face the scarring experiences of war.
Consider depression. Speculating that only hormonal disbalances in serotonin or norepinephrine is the cause behind it affecting a person and stopping there could be largely ineffective if you want to treat a person. On the other hand, attributing it to the recent death of a spouse and extreme psychological trauma caused by it also falls short of a good diagnosis. A holistic diagnosis would include everything- from hormonal imbalances to recent psychological traumas as well as past experiences. Perhaps the person has always had abandonment issues, and this intensified the pain after the death of the spouse. Perhaps an unstable position in the society or family has rendered the patient further paralysed after his/her death.
It seems like as far as tracing how the rats reached the attic is concerned, one must find out not only what gave birth to them but also what made them grow, go snooping not only in the attic but also the house.
– Contributed by Tinka
Picture: Patients at the Institute of Human Behaviour and Allied Sciences in Delhi, India (Credits – UN/WHO)