The Mental Illness Label

Since the focus of my blog is on mental health, I have been contemplating whether I think “mental illness” is the right term to use. This terminology has so many negative connotations in our society that I think we need to examine whether it should be replaced. After all, when someone comes down with the flu or breaks a bone they don’t go around saying they have a physical illness. Using the mental illness label seems to perpetuate discrimination and non-parity in medical treatment, insurance, and healthcare policies.

What then, would I propose to use instead of the words “mental illness”? One thought is to use the actual name of a particular illness, which in some cases may also require re-labeling to avoid the stigma that is associated with such terms. Lumping so many conditions under one label is outdated, since we now have a body of scientific evidence pointing to a wide range of causes such as genetic, metabolic, neurologic, environmental, hormonal, viral illnesses, brain injuries, and aging.  Changing the language we use to more accurately depict their origins may help to dispel the misinformation about these illnesses.

Our understanding and treatment of “mental illness” has come a long way and continues to evolve with time. I predict that eventually all of these illnesses will be shifted into different categories, just as epilepsy and Parkinson’s disease moved out from under the mental illness umbrella.  Wouldn’t it be nice if one day people could tell their friends, family, and co-workers about their illnesses without worrying about the negative repercussions.

For now I will continue to classify my blog under Mental Health Topics and also use other tags as a way to connect with people who, like me, have been impacted in some way by that label.

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8 thoughts on “The Mental Illness Label

  1. You raise a good point but playing devil’s advocate here I think using the word “illness” shows that it is indeed an illness; people still seem to think it’s not a proper illness.

    Rather “mental illness” than “mental problems” or “mental disorders” which perhaps trivialises them?

    Liked by 1 person

    • I thought about that angle and agree that in reality the terms shouldn’t matter. How people view these illnesses is really what needs to change. Thank you for reminding me of that!

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  2. I think we often try to sweep what we don’t understand under a rug. The label of mental illness is a very large rug. I think you are right. Call things what they are. I think if we name things, understanding grows and shame diminishes.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Hey Amy. Agreed. Same goes for the label “addiction”. Both somehow become an umbrella term for a perceived sense of hopelessness, powerlessness, shame and of being defined by these terms (both for the person managing the issue as well as for the observer). I also feel that we might be more accepting of non-happy mental states in general. In my humble opinion, avoiding these is a factor in many so-called physical illnesses as well as issues of well-being 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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