Understanding Mental Health Through the Lens of the Medical/Disease, Psychological/Behavior and Social/Environmental Model

What is Mental Health? Mental Health is a complex and sensitive topic that has recently undergone certain changes in terms of how it is defined, how it is discussed, and how those who cope with mental health issues are perceived and treated. Today, debates continue over whether mental health is a result of physical (biological or brain chemistry) problems, morally corrupt behavior, and/or unfit social environments (DiNitto & McNeece , p. 148). This listicle will look at how the following models define mental illness

Medical Model

  • In this perspective, a mental illness is believed to be a result of some form of bodily dysfunction, including physiological, biochemical, or genetic causes and can therefore be treated through medically grounded procedures (Gupta &  Patel, Models of Mental Illness)


  • To “diagnose” individuals, the medical model utilizes laboratory testing, body imaging, and/or physical examinations to assess and predict how a mental illness will run its course (lecture notes 04/19/16)


  • May include the distribution of medication to treat and reduce symptoms of the identified mental disorder

Psychological/Behavior Model

  • Through this model, mental illnesses are a result of the individuals own wrong-doings, inability to follow social orders, and moral incapacitated (lecture notes 04/19/16)


  • Focuses on learned behavior, such that mental illnesses can be understood by observing stimuli and the reinforcing conditions that control it (Gupta &  Patel, Models of Mental Illness)


  • Can be a result of biased or incoherent thinking patterns. Makes a connection between thought processing and how it can lead to maladaptive emotions and behavior. Therefore to correct mental disorder, changing ones thinking processes is necessary (Gupta &  Patel, Models of Mental Illness)

Social/Environmental Model

  • Seeks to assess how ones environment and other systems influence the way in which one copes with life stressors


  • Mental disorders may be a result of chronic strains in the environment and/or negative life events that generate certain responses from those experiencing these events leading to an adaption or manifestation of the disorder (Gupta &  Patel, Models of Mental Illness)


  • Suggests that social structures impose restrictions on behavior, as surely as biological inheritance and that the effects of one’s social conditions need to be considered to explain both individual distress and how this distress might be related to larger forces (Gupta &  Patel, Models of Mental Illness)

It’s important to consider a wide variety of factors when seeking to understand others and how their experiences have shaped the way in which they interpret and respond to life events. What is mental health? Who determines what it means to be “mentally healthy”? What constitutes a mental disorder?


DiNitto, D., & McNeece, C. (2008). Social work: Issues and opportunities in a challenging profession (3rd ed.). Chicago, IL: Lyceum Books

Gupta, D. S., &  Patel, J. Models of Mental Illness [Power Point Presentation]. Retrieved from Online Presentation Website :http://www.slideshare.net/SudarshanaDasgupta/models-of-mental-health-illness

Vassello, J. (2016). Mental Health [Power Point Presentation]Retrieved from lecture notes.










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