Friday, September 23, 2011

Mentally Ill, Simply ill?

I should really rename my blog "In Response to Nerdy Apple". This is the third time.

Tonight, via twitter, Nerdy Apple (and Morgan pondered why mentally ill people need to be called "mentally ill" and not simply ill. While I agree with her sentiments about the stigma of mental illness, I think dropping the "mentally" in "mentally ill" in all cases would be a serious disservice.

My mother suffers from depression & PTSD. She is on full disability due to her mental illness. I can tell you, from personal experience, that she has to qualify her "disability" to everyone that she tells about it. For example, when she goes to the hairdresser, or runs into someone from high school, and she's asked "So what do you do for a living?", my mother responds "I can't work anymore, I'm on disability". At which point, she gets shifty looks from people. They immediately assume she is scamming the system, because there is clearly nothing physically wrong with her. She has to always respond "I have depression, I'm on mental disability" and then BAM, here comes the stigma. People don't know how to talk to her. They tend to quiet up. My mother tends to laugh off her mental illness, in the face of adversity. She doesn't know what else to do, so she laughs. It's a mostly nerves.

If all people with mental illnesses were to simply be referred to as "ill", I think they would run into the same problem. It could also pose another problem. When I hear the word "ill" I think of colds, or the flu, and I think "Oh no, are you contagious?". I know that's not true of all illnesses, but I'd be willing to bet that a social experiment would find people backing away from people who refer to themselves as ill. So, I suppose its a case of deciding which is the lesser of two evils in this case?

Most people assume anyone with a mental illness is crazy, or wildly unstable. Most people are wildly misguided about what it means to have a mental illness. Many times they are actually chemical imbalances, or lasting effects of past trauma. There is a sad stigma associate with all mental illness, depression included, but I don't feel that dropping the "mental" will save anyone from that stigma. It may force them to need to qualify their illness with an explanation, which may be harder in the long run.

What say you? Am I way off base here? Input is always welcome!


  1. Just popped over from Twitter. Thanks for continuing the conversation. I think we actually agree. It is the stigma and secrecy of 'mental' illness that seems to cause such grief. If we could all agree that 'mental' illness is just as serious, life-alterring, and prevalent as other kinds of illness, perhaps the label would lose it's negative connotation. And no one would be forced to explain themselves or hide their pain.
    I'm not sure if I'm making as much sense as I'd like, but I do think we are on the same page.
    Read a bit while I was here. Who knew I could be inspiring? That made my day.

  2. @ Sarah, I totally agree with you. I definitely think that something needs to be done to end the stigma. Unfortunately awareness is the only thing that can do that, and things being as they are it will be tough to do. Not impossible, though! We need high profile people, like Heather Armstrong for example, to be advocating and raising awareness for mental illness.