What is Mental Illness?

By Ferris Jabr 

What Is Mental Illness?
by Richard J. McNally. Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2011

When a breakup is one-sided, the rejected party’s behavior and mental state often change dramatically. A veil falls upon the world. Sleep becomes elusive. Food and sex are suddenly strangers to pleasure. Concentration dwindles to a rare resource. Intrusive memories and spiraling pessimism worm their way into every moment of consciousness.

These changes are an expected response to loss. Sometimes, however, they are also symptoms of major depression. In his new book, What Is Mental Illness?, experimental psychopathologist Richard J. McNally explores how to identify the line that separates an appropriate response to loss from a dysfunctional one. In other words, how do we distinguish mental distress from mental disorder? “There is a fuzzy boundary, but mental illness has properties that mental distress does not have,” McNally says.

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