Mental Disorders

Severe, unremitting stress does not invariably lead to a mental disorder, but when combined with a particular biological and experiential predisposition, it is quite possible for stress to precipitate a disorder. As with all personality and behavioral patterns, most mental disorders are the results of interactions between the hereditary makeup of the individual and the physical and psychological environment. Among the biological factors that contribute to mental disorders are cerebral trauma, neurochemical imbalances, and maturational differences. Other significant predisposing factors include psychosocial and socioeconomic variables such as child-rearing practices, family stability, poverty, and discrimination.

Definitions of normal and abnormal behavior are by no means absolute; they vary to some extent with culture and the times. The attitudes, expectations, and needs of a society or culture affect its tolerance for unusual behavior. In most Western cultures, people who have poor interpersonal relations, who display socially inappropriate behavior, who have no acceptable goals, and who repeatedly violate social norms are considered abnormal. Depending on society's interpretations of an individual's behavior and whether it, as well as the person who manifests it, is valued or disdained, such behavior may be praised, punished, ignored, endured, or subjected to medical and humanitarian treatment.

Mental health professionals are rarely satisfied with a statistical (frequency of occurrence) or sociocultural definition of abnormality and mental disorder. Rather, they try to delve more deeply into the subjective feelings of the person-thelevel of satisfaction, anxiety, depression, isolation, and disruptive thoughts and perceptions experienced—and the person's efforts to cope.

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