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Concepts of mental health and mental illness : a comparison of definitions and checklists in the Abhidharmakośabhāṣya and the diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (DSM-III-R) Desmarais, Michele Marie


This study examines concepts of mental health and mental illness in Vasubandhu's Abhidharmakośabhāṣya (AKBh), and the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic And Statistical Manual Of Mental Disorders (third edition, revised) (DSM-III-R). The choice of these texts was made based on their importance and influence. Two general problems are encountered in this study. There are great philosophical differences between the texts. These differences are most problematic in regards to terminology. Buddhist terminology is used wherever appropriate and possible. Unfortunately, sometimes North American terminology and categories infiltrate this. The translation of the AKBh poses a second problem. Due to time constraints, the english translation was used, however this translation is faulty in a number of places. Corrected translations are offered in square brackets. This study is conducted on two levels. One is content-oriented, exploring the relevant concepts in each text and examining the cultural, historical, religious, and theoretical influences that form or underlie these concepts. The second level is exploratory and more like hypothesis testing. Both texts use the format of lists, and a primary aim of this study is to identify and compare, not details, but broad structural similarities and differences between such lists. In such a way, the phenomenon and use of lists in such texts may be better understood. Through this approach one finds that concepts of mental health and mental illness in each text are influenced by values and norms. In particular, DSM-III-R reflects largely secular values, while the AKBh contains a soteriological psychology. These differences are linked to basic concepts of the norm -- against which mental health and mental illness are measured -- as average or ideal. Due to such differences in values and norms, a comparison of individual items on the lists is not possible. However, as these same values and norms form or underlie the lists, a comparison of such broad influences or structures is methodologically justifiable. The finding that DSM-III-R shows the influence of values and norms, indicates that it may be impossible to formulate any concept of mental health or mental illness without such influences.

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