Are you needy?
Updated: Apr 18
In 1943, humanistic psychologist Abraham Maslow identified a hierarchy of needs which addresses the five categories of fundamental human needs. These needs are directly related to mental health, and a lack in any of these five areas will harm an individual's mental health to varying degrees. From a psychological perspective, it is not straightforward to differentiate between biological or circumstantial psychological distress if basic needs are unmet. Frequently (and concerningly) pharmaceuticals are administered before addressing a patient's unmet needs. The first set of needs on Maslow's hierarchy is physiological – food, water, shelter, sleep and medical care. The second is safety – a secure home, secure employment, financial stability and stable family support. The third essential need is love – sexual and emotional intimacy, belonging, dependable friendships and committed partnership. The fourth critical need is esteem – self-esteem, validation for one's work, respect, confidence and achievement. The fifth and final need for a fulfilled life is self-actualization – morality, creativity, talent, genius, self-mastery, spirituality, knowledge and wisdom. This five-stage model is divided into deficiency needs and growth needs. The first three levels are deficiency needs, and the higher two levels are growth needs. Deficiency needs arise due to deprivation and are deeply frustrating and distressing to people when they are unmet. The urge to meet such needs will become more powerful, the longer they are denied. The longer a person goes without food, the hungrier they will become. The longer a person goes without love, the lonelier they will become. The growth needs will remain unfulfilled if any of the deficiency needs are unmet. On further examination of Maslow's hierarchy of needs, it becomes evident that each need forms a foundation for the next. Maslow (1943) stated that individuals must satisfy lower level deficit needs before progressing on to meet higher level growth needs. An individual cannot move up the hierarchy of needs haphazardly. If an individual lacks basic survival and security, they will not be capable of achieving self-esteem or self-actualization, even if they have innate potential. That explains why people who are born into privilege often achieve high levels of success and esteem with comparative ease. When it comes to identifying mental health problems, matters become even more challenging. For example, a single mother presents at a psychiatric clinic suffering from a nervous breakdown, and is diagnosed with major depression and placed on medication. She has little financial security, high levels of stress, no family or community support, unstable love relationships, and lacks a sense of belonging. Is she suffering from a mental illness, or is she actually experiencing the consequences of a life lived with a myriad of unmet needs? Meeting her needs would more than likely clear her depression, or at the very least, settle it into remission. Could it be that mental illness is simply a biological predisposition triggered by environmental factors? Psychologists have concluded that this is frequently the case. Many people are living in a chronic state of unmet needs. Most people living in first world countries are fortunate to meet their basic physiological needs of food and shelter. However, few are blessed with financial security and dependable family and community support. Rarely do people meet all five areas of their needs, and consequently lack fulfilment or develop varying degrees of mental illness. So, next time someone calls you needy say 'we all are'.