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Mental illness, that’s a funny term isn’t it?

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If you suffer from depression, PTSD, or anything else please visit: Take this

In today’s lexicon, the term mental illness is used pretty widely. It can be used to describe someone suffering from depression, to PTSD, to even someone suicidal. In fact, today it is sort of a catch all term for anyone who is involved in a mass shooting here in the US. We are getting off point however, why are we (myself included) labeled as mentally ill? You don’t call an amputee someone suffering from body illness, nor would you call someone with cancer “cellularly ill”.

Good ol’ Merriam-Webster defines illness as follows:

illness noun ill·ness \ˈil-nəs\ : 

  1. an unhealthy condition of body or mind :sickness

It also gives an overly long and complicated definition for mental illness , which includes the phrase “environmental rotten luck” (in case you want to read it, it is pretty awesome).

However, mental being of the mind and illness being an unhealthy condition, one would think that mental illness could simply be defined as an unhealthy condition of the mind. Not as fun as being able to use rotten luck, but a fairly concise definition none the less. Then we are left wondering why there is a stigma regarding mental health, as someone who suffers from depression, PTSD, and probably my favorite reoccurring combat nightmares, I think I am uniquely qualified to explain the problem.

Since I primarily deal in science, let’s start with that.

There has been numerous research articles about this subject (different link in each word) showing that there is nothing mental about it. There is a physical connection, there is quite literally something different about the brain itself that no amount of ‘snapping out of it’ or ‘positive thinking’ will change. Positive thinking is not going to grow back an arm or a leg and while changes in the brain occur throughout life, simply telling someone to get over it is not going to change anything.

Frankly, telling someone it is all in their head, or to “get over it” will most likely make things worse for the person suffering, and trust me when I say it is most definitely suffering.

Which brings me back to the questionable word choice and the shaming of millions of suffering people, why illness? Illness is a bad thing sure, but we don’t particularly throw around illness to constantly describe someone’s condition. Mental illness is less of a mental problem and more a physical one that shows up in the cognitive aspect of an individual. That isn’t an opinion, that isn’t something political, that is just a fact and frankly, it is scary how few people who are suffering from depression, anxiety, or PTSD even know this fact.

The term mental illness is more of a slur in today’s society than anything else, which is frustrating, sad, and makes me question the direction humanity is going. I think it comes down to segregation, ever since we stopped roaming the earth alone we have segregated ourselves. The rich and the poor, the whites and blacks, gay and straight all nicely separated. Quite frankly, I would fear for humanity if aliens touched down and looked or thought even remotely different from us, because we — in all our stupidity — would try to segregate them too.

We do not know how the brain works; I cannot lie about that it would set a bad precedent here. We do not know what consciousness is — if it is even anything at all and not just some cellular consensus — nor could science tell you what more than 90% of the universe is made from.

What we do know is that if you suffer from depression, anxiety, or a whole host of other issues, there is something physically going on that you have no control over. It is not strictly a psychological issue. It is, in fact, mostly a neurology issue. We have meds that — in some cases — help, of which we cannot tell you how or why they work, just that in some — not all — people they work well enough to make pretending to be “normal” slightly easier.

In any case, there is help, there are people who understand, and most you can get help. So from your resident lunatic, it is “just in your head” as much as a stroke is “just in your head” or a heart attack is “just in your heart.” Please know that you are not alone.

If you need help, help is out there. For example, there is TakeThis, because it is dangerous to go it alone. They have a lot of amazing resources to help you find your voice and I am not affiliated with them at all, so you can trust that I honestly feel they do great work (and not just because I am a zelda fan).


Elkington, K., Teplin, L., Abram, K., Jakubowski, J., Dulcan, M., & Welty, L. (2015). Psychiatric Disorders and Violence: A Study of Delinquent Youth After Detention Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, 54 (4), 302-31200000 DOI: 10.1016/j.jaac.2015.01.002

Su, J., Chen, J., Lippold, K., Monavarfeshani, A., Carrillo, G., Jenkins, R., & Fox, M. (2016). Collagen-derived matricryptins promote inhibitory nerve terminal formation in the developing neocortex The Journal of Cell Biology, 212 (6), 721-736 DOI: 10.1083/jcb.201509085

Jacobs, R., Barba, A., Gowins, J., Klumpp, H., Jenkins, L., Mickey, B., Ajilore, O., Peciña, M., Sikora, M., Ryan, K., Hsu, D., Welsh, R., Zubieta, J., Phan, K., & Langenecker, S. (2016). Decoupling of the amygdala to other salience network regions in adolescent-onset recurrent major depressive disorder Psychological Medicine, 1-13 DOI: 10.1017/S0033291715002615

Dowell, N., Cooper, E., Tibble, J., Voon, V., Critchley, H., Cercignani, M., & Harrison, N. (2016). Acute Changes in Striatal Microstructure Predict the Development of Interferon-Alpha Induced Fatigue Biological Psychiatry, 79 (4), 320-328 DOI: 10.1016/j.biopsych.2015.05.015

Li, W., Lai, T., Bohon, C., Loo, S., McCurdy, D., Strober, M., Bookheimer, S., & Feusner, J. (2015). Anorexia nervosa and body dysmorphic disorder are associated with abnormalities in processing visual information Psychological Medicine, 1-12 DOI: 10.1017/S0033291715000045

Vita, A., De Peri, L., Deste, G., Barlati, S., & Sacchetti, E. (2015). The Effect of Antipsychotic Treatment on Cortical Gray Matter Changes in Schizophrenia: Does the Class Matter? A Meta-analysis and Meta-regression of Longitudinal Magnetic Resonance Imaging Studies Biological Psychiatry, 78 (6), 403-412 DOI: 10.1016/j.biopsych.2015.02.008

4 responses

  1. Mental illnesses are one of the most common causes of receiving benefits, this can be quite a problem. People can often be confused as well as faking their mental illnesses just to receive help and even false prescriptions. What I find so interesting about this article is that mental illnesses actually has nothing mental about it, more of a physical connection.


    April 1, 2016 at 7:36 pm

    • I agree that it can be confusing. I hope that eventually we can take mental health care a little more seriously. While yes, some could be faking, I think it causes more problems for the people who feel like professionals don’t take them seriously. Especially for the people who have the sense to get help before they get to a point to hurt themselves or hurting someone else.


      April 2, 2016 at 11:09 am

  2. Amy

    I thoroughly enjoyed reading your blog, as we are discussing brain anatomy in my psychology class. I love your comparison of how the the brain can not tell someone to “snap out of a mental illness”, just as the brain cannot say “grow a new leg”. It’s comforting to know research is expanding with the use of MEGs, fMRI, and EKGs to help measure brain activity in relation to depression or other “mental illnesses”. And yes, “mental illness” is a goofy term after reading your blog. It is just as goofy as saying someone is endocrinelogically ill if they have diabetes. Maybe once there is more evidence, we can detach the word “illness” and also get rid of this “mental” word. I am a behaviorist at heart and the more we can do to make society realize our brain is a physical part of our of our body (not an outlandish idea). While up on my soap box, I want to also mention, what happens to our brain is really out of our control. Our brain develops based on phylogeny or ontogeny. You are a modern day Erik Erickson.


    April 1, 2016 at 9:56 pm

    • I don’t know if I would go that far, but thank you that was very kind of you. I like to think that we can come up with a better way of phrasing it some day. I think it comes down to the idea that we are in control of our brain and people are afraid to think that maybe it is the other way around. Thank you for taking the time to comment and thank you again for your kind words!


      April 2, 2016 at 11:01 am

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