A "model" in the scientific realm provides a framework for investigating and evaluating a specific area of study. The Mayo Clinic defines a mental disorder as "a collective term that refers to all the different types of mental conditions, including those that affect your mood, your thinking and your behaviour." Models of mental disorder organise the complicated biological and environmental influences on mental health. The social model is increasingly important in the prevention of mental illness, whereas other models focus on the treatment of existing illness.
The models of mental disorder include the disease model, the psychodynamic model, the behavioural model, the cognitive model and the social model. All are relevant to overall mental health, but the social model focuses on environmental and relationship factors that cause mental distress that is difficult to cope with. Examples of environmental factors are abusive relationships, social stigmas and economic hardships.
The social model has two distinct aspects that link mental distress and problems of living. One aspect is that mental distress is the mind's reaction to painful and inequitable social and relationship problems that have no clear or attainable resolution. Another is that mental distress manifests itself in more physical ways, like hearing voices or self-injury, as the most available method of coping with social and relationship conflicts.
The social model spotlights the interaction of biology, microbiology and social factors in the development of mental disorders, gives attention to community and external stimuli instead of only the internal, and is based on human mental health as a complex issue with many facets. This model embraces critique of communities and mental health treatments and promotes the use of this critical outlook for developing more effective treatments.
Mental disorders are often treated with prescription drugs that treat the effects of mental distress. The social model aims to treat causes of mental distress from the social environment that a person is in, rather than from the biological causes that come from chemical imbalances and neurological function. The social model's relevance is illustrated in the higher number of mental disorder diagnoses among homosexuals, bisexuals, women and racial minorities. These groups suffer mental distress from social factors like sexual harassment, racial injustice and economic hardships caused by prejudice.
The social model for mental disorders is integral in improving public health policy treatments and collaboration and in involving citizens in more effective mental health care. It helps create treatments focused on root causes of mental health and mental health inequalities, rather than the aftermath.