Academic journal article School Psychology Review

Looking beyond Psychopathology: The Dual-Factor Model of Mental Health in Youth

Academic journal article School Psychology Review

Looking beyond Psychopathology: The Dual-Factor Model of Mental Health in Youth

Article excerpt

Mental health is increasingly viewed as a complete state of being, consisting not merely of the absence of illness or disorder but also the presence of positive factors such as life satisfaction, self-acceptance, and social contribution (Ryff & Singer, 1998; Keyes, 2003). Although there is budding attention to positive development, the majority of research conducted to date on adolescents' mental health has focused exclusively on psychological disorders (Evans et al., 2005). The mental health concerns of vulnerable youth who may be at risk for developing future problems--those who are not detected on screening measures of psychopathology, but, when given the opportunity, report diminished life satisfaction or happiness (cf. Greenspoon & Saklofske, 2001) or who are "languishing" in life (cf. Keyes, 2006)--have been overlooked to a large degree. Similarly, not all youth with clinical levels of psychopathology experience poor quality of life (Bastiaansen, Koot, & Ferdinand, 2005). The integration of positive and negative indicators of well-being into mental health assessment yields a more comprehensive picture of functioning (Huebner, Gilman, & Suldo, 2007; Snyder et al., 2003).

Traditional Negative Indicator of Mental Health--Psychopathology

Psychopathology refers to both internalizing psychological disorders (e.g., depression, anxiety) and externalizing disorders (e.g., conduct disorder, oppositional defiant disorder). Traditionally, mental health diagnosis is defined simply by the presence or absence of disorders or associated negative outcomes. If criteria are not met for a certain disorder, the patient is termed subclinical and no subsequent intervention would likely follow. By using traditional assessments, mental health becomes an inferred by-product in the absence of mental illness.

Positive Indicator of Mental Health--Subjective Well-Being (SWB)

SWB is the scientific term for happiness. SWB is comprised of three related but separate constructs: life satisfaction, positive affect, and negative affect (Diener, 2000). Life satisfaction includes both global and domain-specific (e.g., family, school) cognitive appraisals of one's happiness. Affect entails fairly stable emotions and mood states. An individual reporting high SWB would make a positive judgment of the overall quality of his or her life, and experience more frequent positive affect (e.g., joy, elation, delight) relative to negative affect (sadness, guilt, anger; Diener, Lucas, & Oishi, 2002).

Cowen (1994) has proposed life satisfaction as a key indicator of psychological wellness, asserting "wellness is something more than/other than the absence of disease, that is, it is defined by the 'extent of presence' of positive marker characteristics" (p. 154). Park (2004) echoed the sentiment that "positive indicators such as life satisfaction should be included in any assessment battery to capture comprehensively what is meant by the psychological well-being of youth" (p. 27). Notably, there is little empirical support for the additive information that may be gleaned from including SWB in assessments of mental health. Moreover, the assertion that "youth reporting low levels of pathological symptoms could still experience diminished psychological well-being" (Park, 2004, p. 26) is intuitive but has little data behind it. This lack of empirical investigation and support may contribute to the continued emphasis on psychopathology, a focus that has persevered even in the face of the positive psychology and positive youth development movements (Seligman & Csikszentmihalyi, 2000).

Compared to the substantial body of literature on indicators of psychopathology, far fewer studies have focused on positive indicators of well-being in youth. The traditional model of wellness places happiness on a continuum with psychopathology, each being at opposite ends. Diener et al. (2002) assert that the absence of disease is not an adequate criterion to describe a person as mentally healthy, particularly not as possessing high or even average levels of SWB or optimal adjustment. …

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