Why “Mental Health” Can Be Insulting to the Mentally Ill

Why “Mental Health” Can Be Insulting to the Mentally Ill

There is a bone of contention in the mental health world. Well, OK, there are many, but one of them is the terms “mental illness” and “mental health.” It seems more politically correct these days to say “mental health” vs. “mental illness.”

For example, people have mental health conferences, not mental illness conferences. There are mental health policies, not mental illness policies. And so on. I guess it’s the glass half-full theory. Mental health is more positive than mental illness (and don’t get me started about the term “behavioural health”).

But there is a problem with this whole rosy-colored view. It completely ostracises and further stigmatizes people with a mental illness.

What is Mental Health?

“Mental health” is a general term that could be applied to so many things. The dictionary defines it as:

  1. Psychological well-being and satisfactory adjustment to society and to the ordinary demands of life.
  2. The field of medicine concerned with the maintenance or achievement of such well-being and adjustment.

So, um, well-being. So, like, dealing with a divorce, or an unsatisfactory job or feeling OK after stubbing your toe. Great. I really identify with that.

Does that at all sound like schizophrenia, bipolar disorder or major depressive disorder to you, because it doesn’t to me.

It’s sort of like focusing on “cell wellness” rather than cancer. You know, redonkulous.

“Mental Health” is Stigmatizing

And what, exactly, is so wrong with saying mental illness? I don’t have anything to be ashamed of any more than anyone else with an illness. By running away from that term we are further stigmatizing people with real mental illness.

The Fight between Mental Illness and Mental Health

So some advocates want the term “mental illness” back and, not surprisingly, I think they’re right. I think there’s nothing wrong with saying “mentally ill.” I think there’s nothing wrong with denoting a classification of people that really exist. I think there’s nothing wrong with admitting to the reality of mental illness. I think there’s nothing wrong with talking about mental illness. I think there’s nothing wrong with having it in the title of your conference. I see no need to put everything under the heading of “mental health” just so a few politically correct people feel better.

Canadian MIAWAnd what’s more, I don’t think public funding should exclusively go to “mental health.” That broad term can be applied to anything. I think that funding should go to mental illness. You know, helping the people who are sick. I’m sorry, but I think people who are working through a divorce or who are dealing with the stress of changing jobs can fend for themselves. I want to see money go to the people who can’t find housing, keep a job or even hold down a conversation because of mental illness. I don’t care about mental wellness; I care about helping people with mental illness.

And don’t get me wrong, I’m not into people suffering, whether they are mentally ill or not, but I just believe that people without an illness are more equipped to solve problems on their own. I believe they are more equipped with friends and family and counsellors – things that are often sorely missing for people with a serious mental illness.

I’m not saying there aren’t times when the term “mental health” isn’t completely appropriate, because sometimes it certainly is, but what I’m saying is that the term “mental illness” needs to not be put in the corner because that’s not where we belong.

Banner image provided by Wikipedia.


About Natasha Tracy

Natasha Tracy is an award-winning writer, speaker and consultant from the Pacific Northwest. She has been living with bipolar disorder for 18 years and has written more than 1000 articles on the subject.

Natasha’s New Book

Find more of Natasha’s work in her new book: Lost Marbles: Insights into My Life with Depression & Bipolar. Media inquiries can be emailed here.

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