What is psychopathology?

Psychopathology is the study of mental illness and psychological impairment. It can cover a wide variety of ailments that cause emotional distress and behavioral dysfunction – whether it be pathological gambling or a full-fledged anxiety disorder. From phobias to personality disorders, psychopathology uncovers a range of symptoms that cause excessive stress in someone’s daily life, affect their emotions and disrupt their ability to relate to others in a healthy way across social and occupational contexts. The severity of this dysfunction and its impact can exist on a spectrum.

The study of psychopathology reveals not only the development of disorders but their origins, causes, comorbidity (two or more disorders co-existing with one another), their prevalence, prognosis (the likelihood of recovery) and potential treatments. It has been theorized that any form of psychopathology usually develops from an interaction between biology, personality and stressful events.

This topic explores disorders through various lenses, including from a biosocial model which examines the combined role of nature (biological predisposition and genetics) and nurture (one’s upbringing and environment). It also acknowledges a sociocultural perspective – the ways in which culture and society can affect how disorders are diagnosed and can manifest across diverse contexts.

The Classification of Psychopathology

In 1954, the American Psychiatric Association published its first edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) as a handbook for therapists to classify and diagnose these disorders. Since then, the DSM has undergone numerous modifications and its latest edition, the DSM-5, was released in 2013. While there have been debates about whether the DSM can fully capture the complexity of these disorders, it remains the go-to reference guide for the classification of psychopathology even today.