Tag Archives: mental health

‘Mental health’ vs. ‘Mental illness’

I’ve written a new piece on Mind Your Mind.ca. You can see it here.

As a researcher who records people having conversations, I hear people say a lot of wacky things. But one thing that I hear, in the news, in blogs, from people’s mouths, really makes me cringe. I hate it when people say that someone has ‘mental health’ or ‘mental health problems’.

Firstly, just saying that I have ‘mental health’ is ridiculous. We all have mental health – it isn’t a negative thing to have, it’s simply a thing that everyone has, just like everyone has ‘regular’ health. Frankly, we all have mental health problems. I don’t like the way ‘mental health’ separates the mental from the physical, as if they were a divisible topic without relation (I should note that the positive use of ‘mental health’, as in “Check in with your mental health” or “Be healthy, mentally and physically” are perfectly acceptable).

But secondly, ‘mental health problems’ implies that there is a problem with the person that is impacting their otherwise normal mental health. It suggests that the person is at fault. It suggests that there is a normal, ‘healthy’ state of ‘mental’ that is being derailed by the person having ‘problems’. There are not enough ‘quote’ marks to effectively simulate my derisive tone to this terminology.

A mental ‘illness’ allows the problems to be attributed to the illness, not the person. A mental ‘illness’ implies that there is a real, factual symptom and/or syndrome at play. A mental ‘illness’ characterizes the issue as separable from the person – and it also suggests that healing is possible.

The downside of the term ‘mental illness’ is that it implies a perfectly definable, bounded set of symptoms – it does not allow for variation. It also demonizes any symptom, suggesting all symptoms are bad, and must be treated and fixed, whereas that may be against the person’s wishes.

Overall I think ‘mental illness’ is a better term for emphasizing the negative side of psychological issues, whereas ‘mental health’ should be reserved for positive frames of speech.

A bit of a rant about applications

You know, there are people who take things too far when complaining about systemic biases against disability. There are limits to what is reasonable. We will not all start to use wheelchairs because a portion of the population has no other choice. But sometimes, it’s worth pointing out an issue, so I’m going to go ahead and say it:

The entire process of applying for scholarships is next to impossible for people with anxiety issues.

I can’t stand it. It isn’t just some chore that I hate. It isn’t just an awkwardness or modesty or lack of self-confidence. It is truly, insanely difficult to get my head around the basic issues involved in applying for funding. This is a bit of a problem, being a graduate student who has not yet procured funding. Let me enlighten you.


Part 1 – Writing a letter of intent.

Basically, in this letter, you are asking me t overcome my perfectionism and obsession with accuracy, my social anxieties about committing any kind of faux pas, and my inherent inability to represent myself in a positive light.

The accuracy issue is thus: I can’t tell you want I’m going to do in five years because I could be dead. I could be hit by car. My parents could be hit by a car. Hell, if my goldfish was hit by car my life has basically become a shambles. My illness makes my life seem (to me anyway) inherently unpredictable. We both know that life is unpredictable and that I’m going to do my best to follow my interests while still feeding myself and any possible dependents I have, and that whatever opportunities appear will simply happen. The idea that I can lay out for you my vision of the future and maintain my dedication to telling the exact truth is ridiculous.

Theoretically, anxious people should be good at talking about the future. But we are terrible at predicting it. Thinking about the future consumes our lives, but it doesn’t tend to be a positive future. You want me to paint you a gorgeous picture of success, vibrancy, and strength. My brain regularly tells me that my family will probably be dead, if they aren’t already, and that I have to go visit them and arrange funerals while attempting to mourn and pick up the pieces of my life, meanwhile my house has almost certainly burned down, and there’s all that student debt accumulating and wait, what, you wanted a happy future? Nice to know that you aren’t haunted by waking nightmares.

The faux pas issue is related to the representing myself in a positive light. I can’t boast. I must be modest. I adhere to social rules so carefully and diligently that Marx would have dropped everything to make me a case study. Good people don’t boast. Good people, frankly, are quiet, meek, and just happen to get recognized for their brilliance on the side. They don’t do anything to make it happen. That would be bragging, boasting, challenging, pompousizing…No, I cannot tell you a single good thing about myself, because that would be inconceivably rude.

Not to mention that I generally think I am a horrible person anyway. After all, my own brain tortures me with reminders of how generally crap I am as a human being about three times per minute, all day long and all through my dreams. Hot pincers of verbal destruction sear my mind in a constant stream of abuse. Where, amidst that, do I have time, let alone ability, to find good qualities about which to write? It is simply not possible.


Part 2 – Asking for reference letters.

You want me to ask someone for something? You want me to ask them to do something for me? Are you ABSOLUTELY INSANE? Firstly, I’m a horrible person, so they won’t want to help me. Secondly, I’m a horrible person so they shouldn’t want to help me. Thirdly, ARE YOU BATSHIT CRAZY? They are good, proper people, who have lives and careers and things to do, and you want me to ASK FOR SOMETHING? They are busy. They can’t possibly attend to me. There is no way they would ever have the time. I will never, ever get up the courage to ask them. I would rather kill myself. I would rather walk off a cliff and fall onto sharp, pointy rocks, and have my wounds washed with salt water until I bleed to death several hours later. No, no, absolutely not.


How is it possible, in any universe, for someone with anxiety to apply for a scholarship or funding with these dialogues in their heads?!? How???

Let’s be honest – applying for scholarships is not likely to change its process because the mentally ill are handicapped when applying. It’s not like one can even declare the mental illness difficulty (the way one might declare being a minority, in some job application processes) – it’s likely to make you lose the scholarship, on account of being unstable (unlike declaring a physical handicap, such as blindness or other physical challenges, which often can make one eligible for scholarships, or earn perseverance points for having survived and for still fighting the fight – that kind of affirmative action does not yet exist for the mentally ill).

But there, I’ve said it. I’ve had my rant. I don’t think that the process is inherently flawed as a whole. I do not have a better idea for evaluating applicants. It is what it is – the best we can do for now. It’d just be nice if one day it were easier for those who have extra difficulty.


Mental Health Matters – thanks TVO!

Check out the wealth of discussion at TVO. That is what I will now be doing instead of writing.



EDIT: I’m going!! I’m going this Sunday to the conference! I can’t get into the first one, the lecture, so I’ll have to watch it later or try to stand outside. But I’ll be there for afternoon panel sessions. Hurray! (And thank you to the lovely lady at TVO who helped me when I got only error messages when trying to register, very much!).