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Health Psychology and Mental Disorders

Health Psychology and Mental Disorders

Author: Erick Taggart

Recognize how behavior can have an impact on health.

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Hello class. So in the study of mental disorders, the connection between the brain and the body can be especially important to understand, where we know that each can affect the other in turn. So the brain can cause bodily disorders, and on the other hand, the body's reactions can lead to mental disorders, things like stress or anxiety. So physical symptoms of mental disorders are a good example of this.

A lot of mental disorders have underlying physical symptoms, like sleep problems that can often accompany them. And they're reoccurring symptoms which point to an important either cause or effect in the mental disorder process. Another good example is what we call stress-induced illness where anxiety can cause people to become sick more often and more easily. And this is because stress can reduce the body's own immune system effectiveness and reduce a person's ability to fight off sickness. So they just become sick more often when they're having these kinds of anxiety or mental disorder related things.

So an important part of living a healthy life is what we call wellness. Wellness is a positive state of mental as well as physical well being where a person is not only disease free, but also feels good about themselves. In other words, they're not negative like they might be with a mental disorder. They're also not just at zero where they're doing fine. In fact, they're doing well. They're in the positives or the plus side of things. And this idea of wellness comes especially from an area of psychology called positive psychology, which is a part of the humanist view of psychology-- humanist theory being related to people like Carl Rogers and Abraham Maslow.

And that moves away from the more negative aspects of human thoughts and behaviors that might be apparent in other theories, like psychodynamic or behaviorist theories, and instead focuses on human strengths and virtues in an optimal behavior for people. For example, things like creativity or happiness in people is an area of study for positive psychology. So focusing on these kinds of things improves not only a person's mental health, which is necessary for a good life for a person, but also their physical health, because of this brain-body connection.

An area of psychology that studies this brain-body connection is called health psychology. And this is an area that studies the relationship between behavior and health and it uses psychological principles to promote health and to prevent illness as well. So notice, it focuses particularly on how behavior and what we can do can affect our health especially. Because today one of the major causes of death in the United States is lifestyle diseases.

Lifestyle diseases are diseases or problems that relate to the way that a person lives and the choices that he or she makes. So this can include people having certain kinds of jobs, for example, high stress positions, like being a high stress executive on the stock market or something like that, as well as hobbies, like base jumping or extreme sports-- things like that-- as well as unhealthy or maladaptive habits that people form, like smoking or having sexual relations with many different partners.

And the people that have these sorts of choices in their lives are more likely to develop diseases or injuries, and have a shorter life span as a result of this. So we call all of these kinds of things behavioral risk factors, which are any behaviors or actions that a person takes that increase the chance of injury, illness, or premature death. So behavioral risk factors can include things like taking drugs, which can physically harm you, or eating badly, which can lead to obesity, as well as specific choices that a person makes as well, like driving dangerously, or being very aggressive and getting into lots of fights. So those are also behavioral decisions that people make as well.

On the other hand, there can also be health promoting behaviors, which can prolong your life and make illness or injury less likely to occur. And these are things like eating well, exercising, and getting out regularly, as well as having lots of friends and family. Since those social interactions can actually very be very healthy for you and to reduce stress and anxiety within your life. So behavioral medicine is a related psychological as well as medical field that studies how behavior can affect the treatment of illnesses, disorders, and problems. So this is the problem solving section related to those behavioral risk factors, especially in regards to mental disorders.

So the goal of all of these fields in health psychology, in behavioral medicine, in positive psychology are twofold. So first, these kinds of fields want to prevent diseases by discouraging behavioral risk factors and by finding ways to reduce stress and anxiety, or reduce any of those physical problems that can contribute to mental disorders. The second goal of all of these fields is to promote healthy behaviors. That means encouraging people to do things like eat well and exercise, and things like that, as well as encouraging them to be social and outgoing, and also do things that lead to increased happiness, and again, increased wellness, and overall better life for the people that these different fields are serving.

Terms to Know
Health Psychology

Studies the relationship between behavior and health and uses psychological principles to promote health and prevent illness.

Lifestyle Diseases

Diseases and problems related to the way a person lives and the choices he or she makes.

Positive Psychology

An area of humanist psychology that focuses on human strengths, virtues, and optimal behavior.

Stress-Induced Illness

Where anxiety can cause people to become sick more often and more easily.


A positive state of mental and physical well-being.