Why We Should Avoid the Term ‘Mental.’

“Everyone will develop at least one diagnosable disorder in their lifetime.”

Language generates and supports perspective. Language influences thought and action. Not only is the word ‘mental’ inaccurate in describing a disorder, but its negative perspectives and implications promulgate perceptions of incompetence, unworthiness, and undesirability. It is the dominant source of stigma, shame, and self-denigration. Realistically, we cannot eliminate the word ‘mental’ from models of healthcare. Still, we should utilize it sparingly, and only to differentiate a disorder from a physical injury or ailment.

‘Mental’ Disorder

  • Condition that negatively impacts your emotional wellbeing and quality of life.
  • Called a neurosis by DSM prior to 1980.
  • Facilitated by mind, body, spirit, and emotions working in concert.
  • Source of shame, stigma, and self-denigration.
  • Correctible inability to function in a ‘normal’ or satisfactory manner.
  • A normal facet of human development.

The first descriptions that come to mind when one utilizes the word ‘mental’ are crazy and insane. A person with a disorder is not crazy or insane. She or he is someone who has a common malfunction that negatively impacts their emotional wellbeing and quality of life. Scientific American speculates that ‘mental’ disorders are so common that almost everyone will develop at least one diagnosable disorder at some point in their life.[i] A disorder is a normal facet of human development that infects at adolescence or earlier. A person cannot be held accountable for their disorder. They did not make it happen; it happened to them. 

In political correctness, the word ‘mental’ defines a person or their behavior as extreme or illogical somehow. During our schooldays, anyone unpopular or different was derisively called ‘mental’ or ‘mental’ retard. The urban dictionary defines mental as someone silly or stupid. The word was used for attention, involving nonsensical references and actions, usually involving violent or divisive behavior, resulting in the general amusement and hilarity of onlookers. Add the words illness or disorder onto the adjective, ‘mental,’ and we have the public stereotype of dangerous and unpredictable, deranged persons who cannot fend for themselves, necessitating isolation in an institution. 

Dictionary definitions of the adjective ‘mental’ are: (1) of or relating to the mind or (2) of, relating to, or affected by a disorder of the mind. A disorder is not mental. It is administered and facilitated by the mind, body, spirit, and emotions working in concert.

To the early civilizations, ‘mental’ illnesses were the domain of supernatural forces and demonic possession. Hippocrates and diagnosticians of the 19th century favored the humours (bodily liquids). Lunar influence and sorcery and witchcraft are timeless culprits. In the early 20th century, it was somatogenic.[ii][iii] The biological approach argues that mental disorders are related to the brain’s physical structure and functioning.[iv] The pharmacological approach promotes it as an imbalance in brain chemistry. The first Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders,[v] created to address the influx of veteran shell shock (PTSD), leaned heavily on environmental and biological causes. 

Carl Roger’s study of the cooperation of human system components to maintain physiological equilibrium produced the word complementarity to define simultaneous mutual interaction. All human system components must work in concert; they cannot function alone. Integrality describes the inter-cooperation of the human system and the environment and social fields. A disorder is not biologic, hygienic, neurochemical, or psychogenic. It is a collaboration of these, and other approaches administered by the simultaneous collaboration of the mind, body, spirit, and emotions.

There is no legitimate argument against mind-body collaboration in disease and wellness. We know that emotions are reactive to the mind and body and vice versa. Spirit is not ethereal or otherworldly, but a natural component of human development. While some suggest spirit as the seat of emotions and character, the three are distinct entities. Spirit forms the definitive or typical elements in the character of a person. Emotions are the expressions of those qualities, responsive to the mind and boy.[vi] 

In deference to a wellness paradigm, focusing on the word disorder (a correctable inability to function healthily or satisfactorily) and avoiding the mental description will help alleviate the healthcare system’s negativity. Changing negative and hostile language to embrace a positive dialogue of encouragement and appreciation will open the floodgates to new perspectives and positively affect the disordered person’s self-beliefs and image, leading to more disclosure, discussion, and recovery-remission. The self-denigrating aspects of shame will dissipate; mental health stigma become less threatening. The concentration on character strengths and virtues, propagated by humanism, PP2.0, and other wellness-focused alliances, will encourage client accountability and foster self-reliance, leading to a confident and energized social identity. 

Transitioning from the disease model’s pathographic language to the optimistic and encouraging perspective of wellness models is everyone’s responsibility in the mental health community―its institutions, associations, practitioners, researchers, media, and clients. When ‘mental’ is essential for focus or differentiation, we recommend utilizing quotation marks (‘mental’) to diffuse its negative and harmful perspectives.

We are not accountable for the hand we have been dealt. We are responsible for how we play the cards.

Why is your support essential? ReChanneling is dedicated to research and development of methods to alleviate symptoms of physiological dysfunction and discomfort. Our vision is to reshape the current pathographic emphasis on diagnoses over individual, which fosters a deficit, disease model of human behavior. Treatment programs must disavow ineffective, one-size-fits-all approaches and target the individual personality through communication, empathy, collaboration, and an integration of historically and clinically practical methods. All donations support scholarships for workshops and practicums.

[i] Henderson, C., Noblett, J., Parke,  H., Clement, S., Caffrey, A., Gale-Grant,  O., Schulze,  B., Druss,  B., & Thornicroft, G. (2014).     Mental health-related stigma in health care and mental health-care settings. Lancet Psychiatry,  1(6), 467-482 (2014). doi:10.1016/S2215-0366(14)00023-6.

[ii]  Khesht-Masjedi, M.F., Shokrgozar, S.,  Abdollahi, E.,  Golshahi, M., & Sharif-Ghaziani, Z. (2017). Exploring Social Factors of Mental Illness Stigmatization in Adolescents with Mental Disorders. Journal of Clinical and Diagnostic Research, 11(11) (2017). doi: 10.7860/JCDR/2017/27906.1083.

[iii] Pryor, J.B., Reeder, G.D., Monroe, A.E., & Patel, A. (2009). Stigmas and Prosocial Behavior Are People Reluctant to Help Stigmatized Persons in S. Stürner, M. Snyder (Eds.) The Psychology of Prosocial Behavior, (pp.59-80). New York City: John Wiley and Sons.  doi:10.1002/9781444307948.ch3

[iv] Gray, A.J. (2002). Stigma in Psychiatry. Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, 95(2): (2002). doi:10.1258/jrsm.95.2.72

[v] Knaak, S., Mantler, E., Szeto, A. (2017). Mental illness-related stigma in healthcare. Barriers to access and care and evidence-based solutions. Healthcare Management Forum, 30(2), 111-116 (2017). doi:10.1177/0840470416679413

[vi] Mullen, R. F. (2018). Social Anxiety Disorder. (Online.). https://rechanneling.org/page-20.html

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