Does the term “mental illness” bother anyone else as much as it bothers me?
As a treatment provider helping people to determine if they would like to discuss their “disability” with an employer, I have been in the uncomfortable situation of informing someone that their anxiety disorder, depression, PTSD or some other DSM diagnosis classes them as mentally ill. Their reactions to this are very mixed: some stare at me with blank expressions, some seemed resigned to the statement, and others get defensive. One person stated “just because I have anxiety disorder that does not mean that I have a ‘mental illness’ or a ‘disability’, it just means I get anxious and I, just like anyone else, have to deal with it but that doesn’t make me ill or disabled”.
I agree with my client, having anxiety doesn’t make her mentally ill or disabled. The problem is I have yet to find a solution to my wording problem. So this is where I need your help. If you could, what would you rename “mental illness”? Most major mental health organizations such as NAMI, The American Psychological Association, and Mental Health America refer to it as a “mental disorder” and/or “mental illness”.
Here are a few of the names I’ve tried out but still no luck in finding the perfect replacement:
Mental Health Issues – “Issues” is very non-specific which is why alot of people use the word but we all have issues, don’t we? Plus it sounds negative, I mean, who wants to be around someone with “issues”?
Mental Health Difficulties – Not terrible, living with a mental illness can be difficult but being difficult isn’t always a bad thing. Some of the best things in life are difficult, but I’m still not loving it.
Psychological Disorders – As per a suggestion from a colleague, I like it but “disorder” might seem to harsh or long term.
Emotional Issues– Again, that word “issue”, plus not all mental illnesses (i.e. schizophrenia) are about emotional dysfunction.
Psychological Conditions– So far, I think I like this one the most but I can’t solve this problem without hearing from you about how you like to refer to “mental illness”. I’d love to hear your thoughts!
So what would you choose? Take our poll and let us know. Don’t see an answer you like? Tell us what you want to rename mental illness in the comments section.
By Elizabeth Fouracre, LMSW
Laurel House Employment Specialist
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