In recent years, the clinical model of mental health has become the dominant concept of psychological wellbeing and drives public funded mental health services. However, this model of human psychology is not universally accepted and continues to be questioned for its limitations in adequately addressing the complex and nuanced nature of human psychological well-being. While it has undoubtedly played a crucial role in understanding and treating mental health issues, it is essential to critically examine its shortcomings and explore more comprehensive approaches to mental well-being.
In simple terms the clinical model of mental health holds the central belief that psychological distress has clinical causes and, therefore, is an illness or 'disorder' and requires treatment to recover to a 'normal' or 'non-disordered' healthy state.
One of the central critiques of the clinical model lies in its tendency to pathologise ordinary human experiences. By relying on diagnostic criteria and labelling individuals with mental disorders, this approach risks normalising an overly medicalised view of mental health. It often fails to account for the vast spectrum of emotions and behaviours that are part of the human experience, potentially leading to over-diagnosis and over-treatment.
Additionally, the clinical model tends to prioritse medication as a primary treatment option. While medication can be effective for some individuals, it has become the default solution. This pharmaceutical-centric approach can overshadow the importance of psychotherapy, lifestyle modifications, and social support systems in addressing mental health issues. It is essential to recognise that mental health encompasses more than just chemical imbalances; it involves social, cultural, and environmental factors that demand a broader treatment perspective.
Furthermore, the clinical model's reductionist approach oversimplifies the complexities of mental health. By reducing psychological experiences to a checklist of symptoms and diagnoses, it may fail to capture the unique and complex nature of an individual's psychological distress. This one-size-fits-all approach can limit the effectiveness of treatment and hinder the exploration of individual strengths and resilience.
Perhaps one of the most pressing concerns is the stigmatisation associated with the clinical model. By attaching labels to individuals with mental health conditions, it inadvertently contributes to societal stigma and discrimination. Labels can be stigmatising and may discourage people from seeking help due to the fear of being labelled as "mentally ill." This stigma perpetuates misconceptions and prevents open conversations about mental health.
Another notable drawback of the clinical model is its limited cultural sensitivity. Diagnostic criteria may not adequately consider how cultural factors influence mental health, leading to misdiagnosis or underdiagnosis among culturally diverse populations. It is essential to recognise that mental health is deeply intertwined with cultural norms, beliefs, and practices, and any model must be flexible enough to accommodate these variations.
Alternative models of mental health offer a more holistic and person-centered approach. These models emphasise empowerment, self-determination, and social connections as critical components of healing and recovery. They also prioritise prevention and mental health promotion over reliance on treatment alone, recognising the importance of addressing root causes and building resilience.
While the clinical model of mental health continues to be a valuable tool in our understanding and treatment of mental health issues, it is essential to acknowledge its limitations. We must move toward a more inclusive and multifaceted approach that recognises the full spectrum of human experiences, prioritises non-pharmaceutical interventions, combats stigma, and embraces cultural diversity. Our evolving understanding of mental health requires us to be open to new models that better address the complexities of psychological well-being and promote a more inclusive and compassionate society.
Space to Talk is an active member of Action for Happiness a movement of people taking action to create a happier, kinder world, together. We all have our own paths towards happiness but, research has shown that ten things consistently have a positive influence on our lives. Action for Happiness refers to these as 10 Keys to Happier Living. All our Wellness and Wellbeing groups, activities and events focus on these 10 Keys either in terms of the activities themselves or via talks and discussions.
About the author
Keith Bunnett is Co-founder and Director of Space to Talk Training CIC