let’s talk about the sliding scale that is mental health

I honestly don’t remember how many people have listed symptoms and asked me if there was “something wrong with them”.

Do you make sure you locked your door 3 times before leaving? do you need to click the button to unlock your car twice? Does that mean you have OCD? no

The above is just an example, but the same idea applies.

We would all be lying if we said we didn’t think “I for sure have _____!” every now and again.

We all have quirks and qualities that make us different from one another. So when do these quirks and qualities stop being just that and start becoming cause for concern?

A clinical disorder, by definition, is a constellation of symptoms that significantly impair an individual’s ability to function based on a particular symptom picture with specifiable onset, course, duration, outcome, and response to treatment with corresponding familial, psychosocial, and biological correlates.  (thank you, Dr. Rapport)

Explaining each piece:

A constellation of symptoms. It will never be “just one thing”.

Your ability to function has to be significantly impaired by your symptoms. Is it impacting your life?

Specifiable onset, course, duration, outcome, and response to treatment. When did the symptoms intensify or start? how long has this been going on? Outcome and response to treatment are things that cannot be specifically assessed when first diagnosed.

Corresponding familial, psychosocial, and biological correlates. If you’re the only person ever, ever in your family to have ADHD, you probably don’t have ADHD. The heredity level is wayyyy up there. That is an example of a biological correlate. Familial is the way things work at home. Is little Billy only having trouble sitting still and concentrating at school but not at home? not ADHD.  Psychosocial is exactly what is sounds like, too. Is little Billy disrupting class? having trouble getting along with peers? socially withdrawn? no? not ADHD. You need symptoms or indicators across the board to have a clinical disorder.

That definition seems like it has a lot of gray area to the untrained eye. This is because disorders and mental health function on a sliding scale. I’ll go back to OCD. On the healthy end we have checking the lock 3 times but being able to keep going with your day if you only do it twice and similar actions of that nature. On the ill end we have washing your hands until they bleed, not being able to leave the house because if you do and there’s even one speck of dirt on the couch your mom will get hit by a car. Obviously, there is a lot of room in between. This is why it is easiest to picture everything on a sliding scale between normal and impairing functioning.

There is no official scale used, but just know when a mental health professional is describing this to you, this is roughly what they’re picturing in their head.


We’re all human, so we all are continually moving on the sliding scales of mental health and functioning. When you notice that you’re starting to consistently stay in the “injured” and “ill” sections, it is a good idea to contact your doctor/counselor/whoever. Below is the same scale, but with some general symptoms and behaviors associated with each level.


If I did well at explaining this, you shouldn’t have much trouble connecting the dots and drawing comparisons in your own life.


As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments section.


5 thoughts on “let’s talk about the sliding scale that is mental health

  1. Thank you, Kaitlyn. You are blessed with an outstanding ability to explain in simple, concise terms what could otherwise be confusing matters to the rest of us. I really enjoy your blogs. I hope you will be able to continue as you proceed in your profession.

    Liked by 1 person

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