Renaming Mental Illness: Getting Your Feedback

rename mental illness


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.

If you had the chance to rename the term “mental illness” what would it be?


By Elizabeth Fouracre, LMSW
Laurel House Employment Specialist

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7 thoughts on “Renaming Mental Illness: Getting Your Feedback

  1. Veronique Hoebeke, Associate Editor
    Veronique Hoebeke, Associate Editor says:


    Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this issue and asking us about how we use language to talk about mental illness. I prefer the terms “psychological condition” or “mental health condition” because they seem more hopeful since conditions can improve.

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    Greg Dunn says:

    I agree that “psychological conditions” might be best in terms of a mild response during initial conversation. If pressed for a more specific definition, one might want to use the term “psychological challenges” (in keeping with the trend to define persons who have physical ailments to be defined as “physically challenged” rather than the traditional definition of “physically handicapped” .

  3. Denise Vestuti, Resource Specialist
    Denise Vestuti, Resource Specialist says:


    Great post. I was often in this same situation working with clients. I like the first response mental health conditions.

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    Mary Kate says:

    Psychological condition is good. What about saying the individual has a “brain condition?” We hear all the time about a person’s heart condition etc. One could say a brain condition that presents itself as anxiety, for example. I feel it’s a bit wordy but does name the organ that is affected. Just a thought.

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    Janice says:

    This post is a great way to get people thinking about the power of language and how our choice of words can guide our perceptions of people and consequently perpetuate stigma. I prefer “Mental Health Difficulties” as it is the least clinical sounding and “difficulties” seems less stigmatizing and pervasive as many people experience and overcome difficulties at different points in their lives. Unfortunately, the word “psychological” seems to have a negative connotation, most likely stemming from the offensive term “psycho,” so I am immediately turned off to the term “psychological condition.”

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    Gregg says:

    I have been reading over this post and ensuing comments, and realized that I really struggle with what is the most appropriate term. There are so many layers to any term that is used, and I don’t feel like any of them fully satisfies the intended use–because they inadequately describe what is happening, or because the untended consequence is present (as Janice explained with “psycho” stemming from psychological). I guess my best suggestion is that whenever possible, perhaps people should attempt to avoid generalizing and try to be as specific as possible–if someone is living with depression, state that the person is living with depression. Why are we avoiding the term? Granted, there are some people who are uncomfortable talking about the condition they are living it, in which case, a frank conversation should be had about what they individually prefer. The generalization depersonalizes individuals living with (depression, for example), which I have a hard time believing is helpful (at best) to their recovery.

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