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Deviation from ideal mental health

The final method of defining abnormality we will look at is deviation from ‘ideal mental health’.

Abnormality can be defined as a deviation from ideal mental health. The idea of ‘ideal’ mental health is more positive because it moves away from focusing exclusively on mental ‘illness’. This definition concentrates on what psychologists define normal/ideal mental health to be. Anything that deviates from this is regarded as abnormal.

What is ‘ideal mental health’?

Jahoda (1958) identified six conditions associated with ideal mental health:

  • Positive view of the self
  • Capability for growth and development
  • Autonomy and independence
  • Accurate perception of reality
  • Positive friendships and relationships
  • Environmental mastery – able to meet the varying demands of day-to-day situations

According to this approach, the more these criteria are satisfied, the healthier the individual is. However, lack or failure of these characteristics and abilities implies abnormality or disorder (Gross 2015).

Problems with the ‘ideal mental health’ approach

According to this criterion most people would be deemed maladjusted or disordered (Gross 2015). This is because it is practically impossible for any individual to achieve all the ideal characteristics all of the time. For example, a person might not have achieved ‘environmental mastery’ but may be happy with their situation. The absence of this criterion of ideal mental health hardly indicates they are suffering from a mental disorder (Gross 2015).

Furthermore, on the whole definitions of psychological abnormality are ethnocentric. The word ethnocentric means seeing the world through the eyes of your own culture, and in this case definitions of abnormality have been mostly devised by white, middle class Western men. It has been proposed that this may result in a disproportionate numbers of people from certain groups and backgrounds being diagnosed as ‘abnormal’.

For instance, in the UK, depression is more commonly identified in women, and black people are more likely than white people to be diagnosed with schizophrenia. Likewise, working class people are more commonly developing, experiencing and being diagnosed with a mental health issues than those from non-manual working backgrounds. Furthermore, there is a growing body of evidence that shows that both children and adults in households in the lowest 20% income bracket in the UK are two to three times more likely to develop mental health problems than those in the highest (Mental Health Foundation 2016).

Your task

  • Is there such a thing as ideal mental health?

  • Is there a famous person you can think of who has ‘ideal’ mental health? If so, explain you have chosen your example.

Post your thoughts in the comments area.


Gross, R. (2015) Psychology: The Science of Mind and Behaviour. 7th edn. London: Hodder Education

Jahoda, M. (1958) Current Concepts of Positive Mental Health. New York: Basic Books

McLeod, S., (2018) ‘Abnormal Psychology’ [Online]. available from https://www.simplypsychology.org/abnormal-psychology.html [16th November 2018]

Mental Health Foundation (2016) ‘Mental Health Statistics: Poverty’ [Online] available from https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/statistics/mental-health-statistics-poverty [16th November 2018]

Further reading

Maslow, A. (2011) Towards a Psychology of Being. Floyd, Va: Sublime Books

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This article is from the free online course:

Defining Mental Health: A Short Introduction

Coventry University