Tuesday, 2 August 2011

why I hate the term 'mental illness'

    One word; stigma

    I had a great conversation with my dietician the other day and it clarified a few things for me. I told my dietician that she (meaning the ED professional community) needs to come up with a better term than 'mental illness'. The stigma attached to that terminology is too damaging. It really makes no difference what it actually describes - the general community associate the term with psychotic behaviour. It immediately conjures up an image of someone who is a danger to the community and therefore cannot be trusted. True that someone with an ED is inherently (and seriously) a danger to themselves - but I resent the implication that I must be 'mental' to have a 'mental illness'.

    My dietician made the comment 'but you don't have to be the one to fix it'. But quite frankly I think I do. I have a voice and I have experience that I think is worth something.

    And I find it frustrating when people who are not personally affected by anorexia tell me how I should feel about the term. I find it condescendingly paternalistic that I should be told to accept a label simply because some professional came up with it. It is like an explorer naming a country without asking the current inhabitants what the country is actually called.

    It may be a perfectly exactly descriptive name - but the stigma is too damaging. And stigma is everything. It is what the uninformed use as fact to pass judgement. The media encourage it and the masses repeat it and retweet it.

    I'm not mental, or even unintelligent. I refuse to be categorised, pigeon-holed and labelled. I don't like the name someone else chose for my country. So I'm not going to call it that.

    9 comments:

    spiritedladyliving said...

    You go girl! I so agree!!

    Anonymous said...

    Here here!

    The terminology is part of the reason I am still living in my head and not getting real help. I know the damage a 'mental illness', even if only a temporary status, can have on my future. Yes I know that my thought processes are all screwed up but I am not 'mental' and I am not a danger to society.

    xo Poppy

    Madam Bipolar said...

    As someone who spends her days working with words, I can tell you language has power.
    How about instead of mental illness, we just say illness?

    M said...

    Interestingly, for me recognising that it was a mental illness, i.e. not something that I was choosing or controlling played a big part in moving towards recovery.

    I can't stop the thoughts I have, but I can chose to act differently, making choices for my health and future. I likened it to having diabetes - you don't chose to have it, but you make choices in how you deal with it and treat it, via both diet and insulin.

    My thinking wasn't functioning right - it wasn't an expression of a lack of intelligence, but flawed processing. For me, medical professionals telling me this wasn't my fault, wasn't something I'd simply done to myself was really freeing. But then again, it's not like I want to shout proudly from the rooftop that I have a mental illness, so maybe a different term would be helpful!

    PJ said...

    @M - I totally agree with everything you said! This illness (thank you @Madam Bipolar!) is certainly not something we choose. And it is definitely not the biological basis of the disorder that I am questioning. ED most definitely has a strong genetic component - and research backs up this assertion.
    It is only the implication of the terminology that I resent (and how!).

    Jennifer said...

    Hello PJ, Its Jennifer here, June's friend from her blog post "Two Peas in a Pod"...
    I thought it might be nice if we became friends too...wasn't sure where else to contact you, so chose your last blog post (which is awesome btw)
    Thankyou for the comment you left on June's blog..I sure understand about "wobbly days" :-)
    I will be in Sydney for the NEDC but not the ANZAED, unfortunately, but I will still be there on the Thursday, so hopefully you and I can also meet??
    I'm nervous , only my second conference ever!
    Look forward to hearing from you,
    All my love, Jennifer xxoo

    HikerRD said...

    First, how great that you are venting your frustrations on this site, and with your dietitian. Wearing a happy face or internalizing your frustrations would only get you nowhere.
    As to the term mental illnes--I'm struck that this comes up in sessions, because I personally can't remember ever using the term. That being said, the issue is less with the terminology, than with societies' assumptions about mental illness. So you appropriately describe the stigma. On the other hand, there are bloggers in this ED community who strongly support labeling EDz as biological (even mental health issues are typically biological). And it appears to me that that labeling can both relieve some guilt about the ED and assist with getting help (as a reader pointed out) or may make you feel that the locus of control is not in your hands, feeling that what you do doesn't make a difference. I'd caution readers that regardless of what you think about the terms and the etiology of EDz, that your actions play the largest part in recovery!

    PJ said...

    @hikerrd - Don't get me wrong. I in no way want to refute the fact that an eating disorder is biological in basis - it is simply the terminology I dislike. In fact a biological illness would be a better term in my eyes.
    As for how the topic came up - it was in relation to issues I felt were holding back my recovery. I brought up the subject of labelling and stigma not my dietician :)

    Katherine Capplis said...

    I think the word mental is where the stigma sticks. It's a sad fact that in the 21st century there is still this stigma that just because you have a 'mental illness' must mean you crazy or dangerous to others in someway. Mental health disorders come in many different forms and not just one. It's like if you have a physical illness it's like 'aww' but a mental illness sometimes = 'just get over it' or avoidance. It's sad that these old judgemental views still exist along with homophobia and racism.