LEARNING OBJECTIVES

• How are mental health and psychopathology defined?

• What are the key dimensions used for categorizing psychopathology?

• Why are ethnicity and aging important variables to consider in understanding mental health?

J

anet lives alone in a small apartment. Lately, some of her neighbors have noticed that Janet doesn’t come to church services as regularly as she used to. Janet’s friend Betty noticed that Janet cries a lot when she’s asked whether anything is wrong, and some­times she seems very confused. Betty also notes that several of Janet’s friends have died recently but still wonders whether something more serious is wrong with her.

Situations like Janet’s are common. Like Betty, we could think that Janet is simply trying to deal with the loss of friends and is simply experiencing grief. But there may be something more serious the matter; Janet’s confusion may be out of the ordinary. Janet’s situation points out the difficulty in knowing exactly where mental health ends and mental illness or mental disorder begins. What distinguishes the study of mental disorders, or psychopathology, in adulthood and aging is not so much the content of the behavior as its context, that is, whether it interferes with daily functioning. To understand psychopathology as it is manifested in adults of different ages, we must see how it fits into the life-span developmental perspective outlined in Chapter 1.