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PsychExchange.co.uk Shared Resource
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PsychExchange.co.uk Shared Resource

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  • 1. Defining Mental IllnessIt is assumed that it is easily possible to divide normal and abnormalbehaviour and therefore it also assumed that those who have some sort ofmental illness can be easily identified.Read the following research and case study – what do you think?KEY STUDYResearchers: Weeks and James (1995)Aim: To study eccentrics for common patterns of behaviour, and also to see if they could be classed as mentally illMethod: 100 eccentrics were interviewed in detailResults: The researchers drew out 15 common characteristics of eccentrics including non- conformity, creativity, idealism, happily obsessed with a ‘hobby horse’, intelligent, unusual eating and living habits, and not particularly interested in the company of others. Concerning the question of whether or not these people were mentally ill, Weeks and James gave a Present State Examination (PSE) using the symptoms typical of schizophrenia, and there was little evidence of serious mental illness (see Table below) Absent Partial/mild Full/severeDelusion of thought being read 62 38 0Thought insertion 100 0 0Thought broadcast 94 5 1Thought block 70 29 1Delusions of alien forces 88 11 1controlling mindAuditory hallucinations 70 25 5Visual hallucinations 65 26 9Delusional misinterpretation 69 25 6Delusions of persecution 57 41 2Religious delusions 55 41 4Paranormal delusions 70 27 3 A table to show frequency of present State Examination (PSE)symptoms of schizophrenia among a sample of 100 eccentrics (%)Conclusions: Eccentrics are probably close to the divide between normal and abnormal, and may move back and forth. Importantly, they are usually unconcerned about the views of society upon their behaviour.1
  • 2. Real Life Application – EccentricityJohn Slater holds the record for being the only person to have everwalked from Land’s End to John O’Groats in his bare feet, wearingonly his striped pyjamas and accompanied by a dog (which waswearing suede bootees)Slater has had a number of jobs: Royal Marine bandsman,commando, truck driver, steward on a luxury yacht, social worker,insurance salesman, waiter, painter and decorator and publicspeaker. He has lived homeless in London so he could learn moreabout himself. At the time of the book, he was living in a cave onthe seashore for the last ten years. The cave filled with sea waterat every high tide.Slater has been married three times, and has endless ideas likevolunteering to be a human exhibit at London Zoo to raise moneyfor the conservation of pandas. His motto is ‘wag your tail ateveryone you meet’ (Weeks and James 1995).Questions 1. Is John Slater abnormal because he has not held down a job for a reasonable time? 2. Is John Slater mentally ill? 3. What should be society’s response to such an individual?2
  • 3. Would you describe John Slater as‘abnormal’? If you would, what criteriawould you use to judge this? Is beingabnormal the same as being mentally ill?Often, defining behaviour as abnormaloverlaps with issues such as morality(particularly the concept of evil) and thelaw (Stone 1975).Would anyone say that Slater actedimmorally or broke the law? Perhaps allwe could conclude was that hisbehaviour was unusual or eccentric.3

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