Thursday, December 11, 2008

Semantics, implications and inference

First comes the agonizing confusion, gut-wrenching erratic feelings, and anxiety. Next comes the diagnosis and medical treatment, supplemented by self-education and the eventual realization that not all illnesses are perceived equally. Some are serious but not taken seriously. Some are grave and if the patient decides to go for treatment, he or she is considered to be "brave." And then there is an entire class of illness that, because the word "mental" is tacked on before the word "illness," well, the patient is in for a fight, but will never be considered courageous.

Somewhere near the beginning of this blog, someone wrote that instead of calling it by any euphemism, this class of malady should be called, simply, illness. I agree. Why do we differentiate? My illness is biological, it is unpredictable, I did nothing to bring it on, and there is nothing, absolutely nothing, I can do to cure it. A cure is exactly what I want, though.

If you have diabetes or if you survive cancer, you can still run for political office, open a daycare center, and buy a gun. If you go on Oprah, it will be as a role model, not as a worst-case scenario.
I once posed a question on a bipolar forum, "If it's neurological in nature, why is it considered a mental illness?" Nobody was able to give me a satisfactory answer. One person said, "It's because this illness affects the mind and behavior." Well, so do other illnesses. The thing is, the term "mental illness" tells very little about the illnesses themselves. The implications, however, are unmistakable.

We live in a culture of insidious implications. To say someone is ill is meant to imply that it is a physical problem, and probably one that couldn't have been avoided. It is forgiveable. When you say mental illness, though, only those who have intimate knowledge of what those illnesses bring with them can really understand why any and all illness is illness. Everyone else infers the following:
  • It's not real.
  • It has no tangible etiology.
  • It's willful.
  • You could change it if you wanted to.
  • You brought it on yourself.
  • You're weak.
  • You're trying to get attention/avoid responsibility/be hurtful/get out of something.
  • It's because you lack maturity.

The term mental illness robs us of credibility just as it is used to explain away inexplicable actions. It is a catch-all, get-out-of-jail-free card for criminals, celebrities, and politicians.

It tells nothing, but implies far too much.


Sophie in the Moonlight said...

Oh, my, that was a GREAT post.

I have a friend who refuses to say mental illness or bipolar disorder. She calls it her condition. I'm going to pass this post on to her.

Good to see you back.

May Voirrey said...

Sophie, new eye makeup!

I will say "bipolar disorder," but I will not use the term mental illness. I just can't. There's nothing wrong with my mind. Now, my sister who fell on her head as a child and was left a raging bitch, she has a problem with her mind.