I started thinking more about stigma after last night’s post, and I realized that the reason there’s stigma attached to being disabled with either a mental or physical disability is because people believe lies about what that disability means.
Let me just start by talking about the term “mental illness.” People seem to believe that if you have a mental illness, you’re sicker than if you have a mental health issue. Weird, huh? I realize that the reason for calling it an illness is that it’s related to the body, and thus deserves equal attention as a physical illness would receive.
I just googled “mental health vs. mental illness,” and I found one blogger’s thoughts about the two terms. I don’t completely agree with them, though. He or she says that the term “mental health problems” implies that there’s something wrong with the person that must be fixed. “Mental illness” implies that the symptoms are separate from the person, which is true; however, I believe that the emphasis on “fixing” all the symptoms and considering them bad leads to a forced treatment situation for every symptom, whether the individual considers them negative or not.
I think there’s a fear of people with mental illness that isn’t as obvious if you talk about “mental health issues.” Most people think of someone who is out of touch with the reality that they live in as being mentally ill. This disconnection leads to sometimes unpredictable behavior that people aren’t comfortable with. I think this leads to isolation and discrimination that is unnecessary and prevents those individuals from living a full life that contributes to society.
I’m not sure either term is the most appropriate to use to describe most people’s experience. I accidentally found two words on Wikipedia that described discrimination against people with mental health disabilities–“mentalism” and “sanism.” I’ve never heard either word used at all, and I don’t think I’d ever use them. Too many people use “mental” as a derogatory term to make “mentalism” feel comfortable. “Sanism” just goes against everything I believe–I believe you can have a mental illness and still be considered sane.
Maybe it’s time to come up with a different term. I’m not sure, but I believe that language that describes leads to society that discriminates.