Mental health disorders represent one of the most common problems facing adults: within a twelve-month period, nearly 30 per cent of the population in developed countries experiences some diagnosable mental health disorder. Although exact numbers are lacking, it is estimated that, because of the emotional burden of poverty, mental disorders are even more common in underdeveloped countries. Mental health disorders pose an enormous emotional burden on the individuals suffering from them, as well as an economic burden on society, especially in terms of people's incapacity to work. The global costs of mental illness are estimated to rise from US$2.5 trillion in 2010 to US$6.0 trillion by 2030.
Clinical psychologists are concerned with analysing the causes of mental problems from which people may suffer, and with helping people to deal with such problems. Yet, mental health problems are of interest to social psychologists as well. Mental health problems are to an important extent rooted in how individuals perceive their social world, and in how individuals function in their interpersonal relationships. It is, of course, not possible to describe everything that social psychologists do in the field of mental health in just one chapter. Therefore, this chapter focuses on three mental health problems: a disturbed body image, depression, and relationship problems. These three problems are highly relevant topics for applied social psychologists because of their high incidence and debilitating consequences for both the individuals suffering from them and their social context. For instance, marital problems may cause not only spouses to suffer from depression, anxiety and/or drug and alcohol abuse, but also their children, as well as increase the chance that their grandchildren experience family problems and divorce. In this chapter, we discuss what social psychological factors may give rise to these problems, how social psychologists conduct research to understand these problems, and how social psychology can contribute to their prevention and, possibly, treatment.
Disturbed body image
The term body image refers to the internal representation individuals have of their appearance: the thoughts, perceptions, feelings, and evaluations they have of their body. A central component of body image is the extent to which individuals are satisfied with the way they look. Body image (or body satisfaction) may best be conceptualized as a continuum, with levels of disturbance ranging from none to extreme.