What’s In A Name?

Does it matter what we call it: mental illness, mental-health condition, brain disorder, brain disease? I believe it does, and this is an exception under my umbrella of thinking. Usually I don’t like name changing, when it’s the result of political correctness, hoping that by giving a different label people will wake up and right the wrongs of the past. For example, changing mental “retardation” to “developmental disability” comes quickly to mind. Not only are there more syllables (okay, I’m admittedly lazy), it’s a tongue twister, to boot, and has accomplished nothing, in my opinion. Of course, I never saw “retardation” as a dirty word and still don’t. Additionally, serious mental illnesses are biologically based, involve the brain (an organ) and therefore are physical illnesses. (Why should the brain be an exception to all the diseases plaguing people since every other organ in the body is targeted?)

What made me think about this was an article in Choices in Recovery, a magazine I get for free. (I don’t like the PC word recovery, but I’ll save that for another post.)

If people began to refer to serious mental illnesses as either brain disorders or brain diseases, as I believe they are, than perhaps the stigma would lessen, which could have significant consequences in more ways than the obvious.

Compared to cancer, MI gets little money for treatment and research from the government and individuals’ pocketbooks. If more people spoke up about their battles or the battles of loved ones, and pressured their representatives, more money would come in. Big bucks go to breast cancer and The Special Olympics, for example. While they are worthy causes, you rarely see public service announcements or ads on T.V. that focus on MI, even though they are all too common.

We have heard a lot recently about how serious brain concussions are (and no one would dare laugh at that). After all, it can be your kid who died from repeated concussions as a result of playing high-school football. Well, it can also be your kid who gets schizophrenia, bipolar, etc.

While there’s no way of knowing if changing the name from MI to brain disease (and consequently putting the focus on the brain as opposed to the mind), as the causative organ, would accomplish much, but it did get me thinking … We won’t know unless we try. And BTW, I am not referring to the more minor illnesses under the MI spectrum, the so-called “worried well,” but those that are chronic and life altering.

And last, if anyone is interested in getting the magazine I mentioned, Choices in Recovery, you can subscribe at: www.choicesinrecovery.com. Yes, it is put out by a pharmaceutical company, Janssen (okay, someone has to pay for it), but it is free and still has some good info, so, as they say, you can take what you want and leave the rest.


About waywardweed

I am a consumer and parent of two sons, one with a mental illness and the other a third-year law student.
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3 Responses to What’s In A Name?

  1. An excellent post, and timely as I’ve been thinking about the issue of mental illness and its stigma lately.

    I remember having lunch with a dear friend several years ago. At the time, he had been in a committed relationship for over six years. We were discussing another friend who spent a great deal of energy and anxiety trying to pretend to be something he wasn’t. That something was heterosexual. My lunch companion pointed out to me that gay rights only gained traction when people began coming out more and more publicly. He felt that honesty truly was power.

    I’ve mulled over that long ago conversation lately, and I’ve “come out” to a few more people about my son’s illness. I’m not completely brave about it, but I am trying to break through that barrier.

    Again, you make very important points in this post! Thanks!

  2. Thanks for your willingness to share about the ups and downs of life when dealing with a loved one with mental issues. I don’t often write about my daughter, who is bipolar and possibly schizo-affective(?) if that is even a word. Her issues have affected each member of our family in some very devestating ways. Though we understand she will most likely struggle with this all of her life, in her more positive cycles, we find ourselves hoping that perhaps she has found a medication or a lifestyle that will have long-term effects and will enable her to live a more peaceful life. It isn’t easy, but it is part of our journey. Thanks again for sharing!

  3. I absolutely enjoyed this post. This is something I had not given much thought too as far as calling a “MI” a disease(in which I agree it is) rather then a disorder. I agree it would create a decrease in the stigma that is placed upon us. And I say us, because I am a consumer(Schizo-affective). Not enough research is being done and it’s a very important issue that needs and should be addressed. I look forward to reading more on your blog and I appreciate so much for the like you gave me on my post “The Shoes I Walk In.”

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