Failure to function adequately suggests that individuals are not able to cope with everyday life and the behaviours they exhibit prevent them from being able to work or conducting satisfying relationships, for example. Rosenhan and Seligman (1989) suggested range of characteristics such as suffering, maladaptiveness, vividness and unconventionality, unpredictability and loss of control, irrationality and incomprehensibility, observer discomfort and violation of moral/social standards.
The advantage of this concept is that it acknowledges the subjective experience of the person but most people fail to function adequately at some point in their lives, for example bereavement where if they were to act normally, they would be deemed as abnormal. Some behaviour is seen to be maladaptive, harmful or threatening, such as adrenaline sports, smoking, drinking etc. yet people are not classed as abnormal if they partake in these activities.
The deviation from ideal mental health begins with the idea of what is normal first. Jahoda (1958) suggested that the features necessary for living a full and happy life were self acceptance, autonomy, environmental competence, potential for growth and development, accurate perception of reality and positive interpersonal relations. This is a positive approach to looking at abnormality; however, this is an idealistic list and would generally be unattainable by most people therefore making the concept insignificant.
To achieve classification, the different disorders are diagnosed according to symptoms and should be based on factual information. The DSM IV explains a person’s psychological condition using five different criteria, axes, they are then assessed on each of the axes. Axis I describes clinical disorders such as anxiety disorders, mood disorders and other psychotic disorders. Personality disorders are listed under Axis II. Both Axis I and II can be included together in diagnosis.
Axis III, IV and V are not required for diagnosis but they do help to show an understanding of the individuals situation. They include general medical conditions such as injury and poisoning, psychosocial and environmental problems such as educational problems or even being eccentric. The purpose of Axis V is to assess the extent, global assessment of functioning, at which the disorder diminishes the persons quality of life. This then enables the development of treatment for specific disorders.
To be included in the DSM IV there must be elements of distress, disability, pain, risk of death or loss of freedom. The individual must also exhibit behavioural, psychological or biological dysfunction. As the DSM IV has been mainly influenced by psychiatrists, the system tends to be more consistent with the medical perspective; therefore diagnosing a psychological disorder only describes the symptoms and not the origins. As classification becomes more complex, more patients are being diagnosed with more than one disorder (Kessler et. al. 1994).