Reference Work Entry

Encyclopedia of Medical Anthropology

pp 486-493

Mental Disorders

  • Alex Cohen


The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th Edition (or DSM-IV) defines mental disorder as a “clinically significant ... syndrome or pattern” in which an individual exhibits behavioral or psychological patterns that are associated with “distress, disability, or increased risk of pain or death” (American Psychiatric Association, 1994).

However, there are several problems with this definition. First, it covers a vast range of conditions. One might reasonably ask whether it is valid for a single definition to encompass the entire spectrum of conditions: from the relatively rare, severe and chronic psychoses to the relatively common, often comparatively mild and intermittent mood disorders. Even if it is valid to speak of mental disorders in such an inclusive way, more precise focusing may be obligatory when formulating and testing hypotheses about the effect of sociocultural environments on human mental well-being. For example, Vikram Patel’s (1998) r ...

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