Come on then! – just what is Mental Illness?



The subtext to the title should be ‘ and who decides’

The first and most obvious contrast is the over arching nature of the term Mental Illness. It embraces a plethora of conditions, from mine, Bipolar, to Autism or Schizophrenia and many others.

So why is someone who is physically ailing not called bodily ill or some such all encompassing term?  If someone has chronic lumbago, they have chronic lumbago not bodily illness. I know I’m being deliberately pedantic and deliberately simplistic, but the analogy works.

Let’s take phobias. If someone has an intense agoraphobia, it is every bit as debilitating as something like Bipolar, but it is never classed or lumped under Mental Illness. I’m not suggesting that we should advocate classifying it like that, but to me it’s a mental illness, if we’re including things like Bipolar, Borderline Personality Disorder, Asperger’s or whatever.

We have seen huge improvements in tackling racism and homosexuality issues, such that they are largely eradicated save for a few bigoted people, but Mental Illness is the last bastion of ill informed prejudice, punctuated with throwaway lines that seemingly liberal minded people churn out like ‘nutcase’ or ‘fruitcake’  which to me are no better than queer, or paki. The latter terms are considered rightfully offensive and one can now be prosecuted and even jailed. Amen to that!  But call someone a nutter or a head case and most people hardly raise a hair. Something needs to change.

I suppose what I’m saying is that I find it increasingly frustrating that so little is changing in the Mental Ill Health arena: sure we’ve stopped banging people up in asylums, which 50 years ago I could well have been consigned to, but I do look on with real envy at the way racism and homophobia have been tackled and largely conquered. Maybe it results from those two ‘groups’ being easier to envisage and act as collective pressure groups. Whereas, per the tenet of this note, the Mentally Ill are so disparate and loosely categorised that imagining up a collective pressure group seems impossible.

Maybe we should start by simply dispensing with the whole term Mental Illness? I’d like to be dealt with as someone who has Bipolar, in the way that someone with Agoraphobia is.  Whilst the term Mentally Ill remains as a catch all, we will all fall prey to the ‘barking mad’ insults.

I find that depressing.

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