I propose the term “Brain Disease” replace the term “Mental Illness”

First of all let me start by acknowledging how much words matter and if therapists are anything they are expert wordsmiths with a deep understanding that how things are brought up and discussed can make the difference between helping someone become empowered to make the changes they want for themselves or feeling further shamed and defensive.  For example, by asking people questions and inquiring about what is going on rather than telling them what they should or shouldn’t do can make all the difference in serving them even if the goal is the same with both approaches.

There has been all kinds of discussion about the term “Mental Illness” and while it may accurately describe what someone is dealing with it has taken on a very stigmatizing feel.  And, if you take addition for example, it’s common knowledge at this point that it is a disease and I hear people all the time saying “it’s a DISEASE” with the emphasis on the word disease as though they are attempting to undo all of the stigma in one statement (something I do all the time!).  So, if we have heart disease, lung disease, kidney disease, liver disease, etc., why in the world are we not referring to conditions like addiction, bipolar disorder (another stigmatizing word), and schizophrenia (just to name a few) as brain diseases?

This appears to be another sad example of the mind-body split that I think we are coming to realize has done more harm than good overall.  Sure, it’s important to break things down into smaller pieces to understand them but it’s hugely more important to put them all back together into the whole once the studying is done.  It is so unfortunately that brain diseases so often affect a persons’ judgment and behavior that they already have to deal with that further stigmatization is salt on the wound.

Join me in de-stigmatizing these unfair and unwanted brain illnesses by simply changing your words.  Because change, I am coming to understand, can come from a single idea that spreads.