This section deals with pathological states that are entirely psychological. The disorders described present in the absence of physical alterations or anomalies and no other possible explanations can be provided for their appearance. In order to define human behaviour as pathological certain basic characteristics must be present, including statistical infrequency, a deviation from social norms, individual distress, an incapacity or dysfunction and unpredictability. All of these characteristics must be present simultaneously otherwise it would not be appropriate to speak in terms of abnormality or a mental disorder.

The term infrequency refers to the rare presence in the general population of the symptoms presented by an individual suffering from a mental disorder. A further element to be taken into consideration to determine the abnormality of a behaviour is whether it deviates from social norms or whether it represents a threat or a source of anxiety for anyone witnessing it. A young woman suffering from anorexia nervosa who inflicts a severe punishment on herself such as abstaining from food is a very evident example of the above concept. The complex rituals of a person suffering from Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder and the conversations with imaginary voices of patients afflicted by a psychosis are also clearly coherent with this definition. The third characteristic of abnormal behaviour is the individual distress which it causes, creating persistent torment in the afflicted subject. However, it should be specified that not all psychological problems are conducive to anguish and sufferance: a psychopathic personality type for example will treat others with absolute indifference and may repeatedly break the law without ever feeling any kind of remorse or feelings of guilt. The perception of sufferance is subjective and in order to speak in terms of a pathological condition there must be an open revelation of malaise and distress on the part of the individual in question.

The terms ‘incapacity’ and ‘dysfunction’ refer to an impairment of the normal functioning of an individual. An example of this can be identified in compromised social or occupational skills. In the case of a phobic individual a limitation of this type might be due to the inability (caused by fear) to travel by air. In such cases too there are no objective criteria to measure the impairment in the functioning of an individual on account of the fact it is generated by a series of subjective factors which are not always perfectly evident. Returning to the previous example, one might in this regard hypothesize that the impossibility to travel by plane might result in serious difficulties in persons who have to travel by air for professional reasons, while this would not represent a problem for those who do not have such an obligation. Unpredictability, the last distinguishing characteristic of mental abnormality, refers to the impossibility to foresee behaviour that might derive from it as a consequence. In the case of anxiety disorders for example, the reaction of fear or panic will occur in an unexpected manner and in the absence of any real sign of danger.

Statistical and Diagnostic Manual of Mental Disorders - Fourth Edition

The DSM IV (the fourth edition of the Statistical and Diagnostic Manual of Mental Disorders) establishes 15 different categories of mental disorders: 1) Disorders Usually First Diagnosed in Infancy, Childhood or Adolescence; 2) Delirium, Dementia, Amnestic Disorders and other Cognitive Disorders; 3) Substance-Related Disorders; 4) Schizophrenia and other Psychotic Disorders; 5) Mood Disorders; 6) Anxiety Disorders; 7) Somatoform disorders; 8) Factitious Disorders; 9) Dissociative Disorders; 10) Sexual and Gender Identity Disorders; 11) Eating Disorders; 12) Sleep Disorders; 13) Impulse-Control Disorders; 14) Adjustment Disorders; 15) Personality Disorders.

The anxiety disorders (the Phobias, Panic Disorder, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Acute Stress Disorder) will not be dealt with here as they are described in a separate section (see Anxiety Disorders).

>>> (Infancy, childhood, adolescence disorders)

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