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Chapter 1: What is Abnormal Psychology?

Chapter Overview

Cassie is an 18-year-old female from suburban Seattle, WA. She was a successful student in high school, graduating valedictorian, and she obtained a National Merit Scholarship for her performance on the PSAT during her junior year. She was accepted to a university on the far eastern side of the state where she received additional scholarships which together, gives her a free ride for her full four years of undergraduate education. Excited to start this new chapter in her life, Cassie’s parents begin the 5 hour commute to Pullman where they will leave their only daughter for the first time in her life. The semester begins as it always does in late August. Cassie meets the challenge head-on and does well in all of her classes for the first few weeks of the semester, as expected. Sometime around Week 6, her friends notice she is despondent, detached, and falling behind in her work. After being asked about her condition she replies that she is “just a bit homesick.” Her friends accept the answer as this is a typical response to leaving home and starting college for many students. A month later her condition has not improved but actually worsens. She now regularly shirks her responsibilities around her apartment, in her classes, and on her job. Cassie does not hang out with friends like she did when she first arrived at college and stays in bed most of the day. Concerned, her friends contact Health and Wellness for help.

Cassie’s story, though hypothetical, is true of many Freshman leaving home for the first time to earn a higher education, whether in rural Washington state or urban areas such as Chicago and Dallas. Most students recover from episodes of depression and go on to be functional members of their collegiate environment and accomplished scholars. Some learn to cope on their own while others seek assistance from their university’s health and wellness center or from friends who have already been through similar ordeals. This is a normal reaction. But in Cassie’s case and that of other students, the path to recovery is not as clear and instead of learning how to cope, their depression increases until it reaches clinical levels and becomes an impediment to success in multiple domains of life such as home, work, school, and social circles.

In Chapter 1, we will explore what it means to display abnormal behavior, how mental disorders are classified and how society views them both today and has throughout history.

Chapter Outline

  • 1.1. Understanding Abnormal Behavior
  • 1.2. Classifying Mental Disorders
  • 1.3. The History of Mental Illness

Chapter Learning Outcomes

  • Explain what it means to display abnormal behavior.
  • Identify types of mental health professionals
  • Clarify the manner in which mental health professionals classify mental disorders.
  • Describe the effect of stigma on those afflicted with mental illness.
  • Outline the history of mental illness.


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Chapter 1: What is Abnormal Psychology? by Washington State University is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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