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Four Things I Learned from an Abnormal Psychology Class

I took my first psychology class since high school this past semester. I was looking forward to delving into the mind and studying why some people battled with depression and how others lived with their OCD diagnosis. After completing this course, I now see how little the general population knows about behavioral health conditions.

Behavioral health is an area composed of more questions than answers. It is filled with gray areas, but professionals are learning more every day. Here is a list of four concepts I did not know or understand before I took this course as a 21-year-old college student. These ideas are basic but helpful for understanding mental health disorders.

1. Depression is worse when it runs in your family

When depression runs in a family, the illness is even more powerful. Depressed people who show evidence of genetic contribution typically suffer from the disease at an earlier age, have a higher number of depressive episodes, greater duration of the episodes, higher impairment level and suicide attempts are more likely.

2. There are protective factors that can help prevent eating disorders

Eating disorders like anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa stem from dysfunctional thinking and cognitive distortions. These eating disorders are primarily present in Western cultures. These cultures’ glorification of thin people influence young people and pressure them to be thin themselves. Biological and genetic factors may also play a role.

However, there are protective factors that can prevent eating disorders in young people. First, social support from a young person’s family is essential. If parents encourage healthy eating habits and embrace healthy body images, then a child is less likely to become anorexic or bulimic.

Also, genuine friendships that are not based on appearance will help keep a young person healthy. Finally, people with “easy” personalities are less likely to have negative thoughts than can lead to unhealthy eating. For example, people that are able to go with the flow and adapt to change easily are less likely to suffer from an eating disorder.

3. There are three types of parenting styles … authoritative is ideal

The first, authoritarian is the most demanding of the three styles. This relationship is parent-centered and demanding but non-responsive. These parents value obedience above all else and use forceful measures to punish and restrict autonomy.

Second, authoritative parents are demanding and responsive. These parents value discussion and clear communication within the family. These parents use mostly positive feedback and value the child’s opinions, but the parents are the bosses.

Finally, permissive parents do not have control over the children. These parents are not consistent in their punishments and the children generally don’t take them seriously.

4. Compulsions in OCD are done to reduce anxiety

People with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder have compulsions, obsessions or both. Obsessions are a persistent thought, idea, impulse, or image that is experienced repeatedly and causes anxiety. For instance, a woman who sees germs everywhere she looks.

Compulsions on the other hand, are repetitive behaviors that a person with OCD does to reduce the anxiety from his or her obsession. For example, the germ obsessed woman may wash her hands 20 times in one hour to reduce her fear that germs are on her hands.


This is just a highlight of four areas I found interesting and illuminating in this psychology course. Of course, there is much still to learn. Hopefully more people learn about the complex field that is behavioral health.

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