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Study notes

Deviation from Ideal Mental Health

  • Levels: AS, A Level
  • Exam boards: AQA, Edexcel, OCR, IB

This is a definition of abnormality. The idea is that there are various theoretical descriptions of ‘normality’ and if someone does not fit within this theoretical idea of normality their behaviour is abnormal.

An example of a theoretical description of abnormality is the one suggested by Marie Jahoda in 1958.

She suggested that there were 6 criteria that needed to be fulfilled for ideal mental health (‘normality’). The six criteria were a positive attitude towards the self, self-actualisation, autonomy, resistance to stress, environmental mastery and an accurate perception of reality. These are outlined below:

Positive attitude towards the self

This is linked to the individual’s level of self-esteem. For ideal mental health the positive attitude should be at a good level, so that the individual feels happy with themselves.


Self-actualisation is being in a state of contentment, feeling that you have become the best you can be.


This is having the independence and self-reliance. The ability to function as an individual and not depending on others.

Resistance to stress

This criteria is that an individual should not feel under stress and they should be able to handle stressful situations competently.

Environmental mastery

Having environmental mastery means that the person can adapt to new situations and be at ease at all situations in their life.

Accurate perception of reality

This criteria is focused on how the individual sees the world around them and to achieve ideal mental health they should have a perspective that is similar to how others see the world. This is focused very much on the distortions of thinking that some people, e.g. people with schizophrenia, may experience.

Jahoda stated that for ideal mental health to be achieved the individual should experience all of these criteria for optimum ideal mental health and that if some are not fulfilled the person will experience difficulties.

Strengths of the definition

Focused: A strength is that this definition allows for an individual who is struggling to have targeted intervention if their behaviour is not ‘normal’. For example, their distorted thinking could be addressed to help their behaviour become normal, as if their thinking is biased then their behaviour will be too.

Positive: This definition focuses on what is helpful and desirable for the individual, rather than the other way round

Achievement of goals: This idea allows for clear goals to be set and focused upon to achieve ideal mental health, and, in Jahoda’s opinion, to achieve normality.

Weaknesses of the definition

Feasibility: The criteria outlined by Jahoda makes ideal mental health (normality) practically impossible to achieve. This means that the majority of the population, using this definition, would be abnormal.

Ethnocentrism: The criteria of autonomy makes the collectivist cultures, where the greater good and helping / relying on others is encouraged, seem abnormal. As most western cultures are individualist the criteria outlined by Jahoda seem a reasonable fit, but non-western cultures cannot relate to the criteria she outlines. This means that the definition is not global.

Subjectivity: The criteria that Jahoda stipulates are vague and are therefore very difficult to measure. This makes the decision as to whether someone fulfils the criteria difficult to make.

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