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What Are Psychological Disorders?

Updated on August 5, 2014

Analysis of Psychological Disorders

According to Wood, Wood, and Boyd, psychological disorders are “mental processes and/or behavior patterns that cause emotional distress and/or substantial impairment in functioning” (2002, page 369, para. 1). The most prevalent psychological disorders of today are anxiety and mood disorders along with schizophrenia.

I will be analyzing these anxiety and mood disorders along with the psychological disorder called schizophrenia in this essay. However, in order to perform a proper analysis I must first determine what abnormal behavior is.

What Is Abnormal?

To go about defining what abnormal behavior is I must consider the following criteria. An individual’s “behavior may be judged abnormal if it is statistically unusual in a particular population” (Russell, 2008, para. 1).

In other words, the individual’s behavior is considered to be abnormal within their own society. A maladaptive behavior is what some experts believe to be “the best way to differentiate between normal and abnormal behavior” (Wood, Wood, & Boyd, page 369, para. 5).

Also, an abnormal behavior may be defined as a maladaptive behavior which “goes against common or majority or presumed standards of behavior” (Russell, 2008, para. 1). A person who is a danger to their self and others would be considered abnormal.


I can determine if the person is exhibiting abnormal behavior by taking into account that person’s own feelings about their behavior. The individual may experience “feelings of anxiety, strangeness, depression, losing touch with reality, or any other sensation recognized and labeled by an individual as out of the ordinary,” which the individual may believe to be abnormal (Russell, 2008, para. 1).

Finally, I must determine if an individual is “legally responsible for his or her acts” (Wood, et. al., page 369, para. 7). Once I examine the individual in question with these criteria I can then help to determine whether the individual’s behavior is indeed abnormal.

Anxiety Disorders

After having established what abnormal behavior is I can now examine the many psychological anxiety disorders. Anxiety disorders are “psychological disorders characterized by frequent fearful thoughts about what might happen in the future” (Wood, et. al., page 373, para. 1).

For example, “inappropriate anxiety is when a person's heart races, breathing increases, and muscles tense without any reason for them to do so” (Allpsych, 2004, para. 2).

Some anxiety disorders include: “acute stress disorder, agoraphobia, generalized anxiety disorder [GAD], obsessive-compulsive disorder [OCD], panic disorder, phobias, posttraumatic stress disorder [PTSD]” (Allpsych, 2004, para. 3).

Acute stress disorder is the result of “a traumatic event an individual experienced or witnessed which involved threatened or serious injury or death and responded with intense fear and helplessness” (Allpsych, 2004, para. 1).

Another anxiety disorder called agoraphobia is defined as being “an intense fear of a situation in which escape or help is not possible or would not be available to a person if they were to have a panic attack” (Wood, et. al., page 374, para. 3).

People with this disorder tend to plan their days very carefully in hopes to avoid any fearful situation which could lead to a panic attack. And generalized anxiety disorder or GAD functions on “the notion that what started as specific phobias has spread though generalization to almost all situations” (Indiana University, 2000, para.13).

On the other hand, obsessive-compulsive disorder, also known as OCD, can be the result of “both biological and psychological causes” (Allpsych, 2004, para. 1). People with this disorder tend to be overly concerned or obsessed with certain objects or tasks.

A panic disorder is “characterized by sudden attacks of intense fear or anxiety, usually associated with numerous physical symptoms such as heart palpitations, rapid breathing or shortness of breath, blurred vision, dizziness, and racing thoughts” (Allpsych, 2004, para. 2). The symptoms of a panic disorder often come on quickly without an identifiable stressor.

A more widely known psychological disorder is what is known as a phobia. A phobia is “a persistent irrational fear of some specific object, situation, or activity that poses little or no real danger” (Wood, et. al., page 374, para. 3).

Lastly, post-traumatic stress disorder [PTSD], which “arises when people are exposed to severely stressful, life-threatening situations in which they perceive that they have no control over the outcome” (Indiana University, 2000, para.11).

Those who suffer from this disorder experience flashbacks, nightmares, have trouble sleeping, and may find it impossible to put the traumatic situation behind them. Some situations which induce PTSD include “military combat, natural disasters, accidents, and being taken hostage, among others” (Indiana University, 2000, para.11).

Overall, if no medical cause can be determined as the reason for an individual’s anxiety then an anxiety disorder is most likely the cause for that person’s abnormal behavior.


Mood Disorders

Mood disorders are typically the “extreme and unwarranted disturbances in emotion or mood” (Wood, et. al., page 377, para. 1). Some mood disorders include bipolar disorder and major depressive disorder. These mood disorders can range from mild to severe.

For example, those with bipolar disorder also called manic-depression or bipolar affective disorder experience what is known as ups and downs. This disorder “causes people to swing between extreme, severe and typically sustained mood states which deeply affect their energy levels, attitudes, behavior and general ability to function” (Amoeba Web, 2009, para. 4).

Major depressive disorder is “characterized by feelings of great sadness, despair, and hopelessness as well as a loss of the ability to feel pleasure” (Wood, et. al., page 377, para. 2). I will now move on to the last psychological disorder in my analysis.


The term schizophrenia means “split mind,” which was intended to “convey a splitting of the normally integrated cognitive/behavioral/emotional functioning of the brain” (Indiana University, 2000, para. 20). Schizophrenia is a dangerous disorder characterized by a person’s loss of contact with reality.

Also, other strange behaviors such as “hallucinations, delusions, catatonia, inappropriate or flat affect, disturbance in thinking, and social withdrawal” are the result of schizophrenia (Wood, et. al., page 381, para. 1). Hallucinations experienced as a result of schizophrenia may be in the form of hearing voices and/or illusions.

Schizophrenia | Source

Delusions are false beliefs that people with this disorder firmly hold to despite the fact of being presented with any evidence to the contrary. Paranoid delusions involve irrational beliefs that the individual is someone famous and/or the belief that someone is out to get them.

Catatonia is the occurrence of the person freezing into a position of "waxy flexibility: you can reposition their arms etc. as if the person were a doll, and they will hold the new position, even a very uncomfortable one, for long periods of time” (Indiana University, 2000, para. 20).

Many theories have been introduced in an attempt to explain schizophrenia but the causes of schizophrenia are unknown. Although, some professionals do believe the disorder is “a result of a physiological condition brought out by a life stressor” (Allpsych, 2004, para. 1).

Upon concluding this analysis, I arrived with a better understanding of what a psychological disorder is. I have also come to determine what abnormal behavior is and what the major psychological disorders are.

Once I had a proper understanding of abnormal behavior I was able to examine the major anxiety, mood and schizophrenia psychological disorders. All of these psychological disorders “create a maladaptive pattern of thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that lead to detriments in relationships” and other areas of life (About, 2009, para. 1).

References and Further Reading

  • (2009, April 28). Psychological Disorders. Retrieved April 28, 2009, from
  • AllPsych and Heffner Media Group, Inc. (2004, May 15). Psychiatric Disorders at ALLPSYCH Online. Retrieved April 28, 2009, from
  • Nemade, R., Dombeck, M. (2006, December 13). Introduction to Bipolar Disorder. Retrieved May 1, 2009, from
  • Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne. (2000, December 7). The Psychological Disorders. Retrieved April 28, 2009, from
  • Russell, D. (2008, October 4). Defining Abnormal Behavior. Retrieved April 30, 2009.
  • Wood, S., Wood, E., & Boyd, D. (2002). Mastering the World of Psychology. New Jersey: Pearson Custom Publishing.


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    • LailaK profile image

      LailaK 6 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      A well-researched hub! I'm not sure whether this is completely scientifically proven or not, but I remember reading that Schizoprenia is caused by an over- production of the nuerotransmitter Dopamine. But like you mentioned, these are only theories. Anyhow, Do you know the movie "A Beautiful Mind?" It portrays a great concept of schizophrenia and how it's treated. Thank you for writing this hub!