We’ve all noticed the terminology creep from illness to health. It seems sort of antiquated now to refer to mental illness programs or mental illness practitioners. We prefer mental health. But we don’t usually talk about heart health or kidney health. The American Psychiatric Association uses mental “disorders”- the DSM-5 is the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition.
Why is this terminology changed?
One reason is that the conditions we label as depression and anxiety are changing as we learn more about causes, genetics, and environmental factors. Therefore, the term “disease” or “illness” is too specific. We know a lot more every day about the science of psychiatric problems, but things are changing so much and so fast that what seems like a disease at one time becomes subdivided or recategorized. Depression became “depressive reaction” became Major Depressive Disorder, and now we see that bipolar issues, anxiety issues, pain, inflammation, postpartum state, age, climate, and much else must be factored in.
Another big reason for moving away from the phrase “mental illness” is social stigma. There are a lot of negative emotions and thoughts that go into feeling ashamed or guilty about having a psychiatric disorder.
- Is it somebody’s fault?
- Should I have done something differently?
- Should they have known better?
This can keep people from benefitting from all the new information and treatments that are available for these medical problems.
Why don’t we get psychiatric checkups in the same way we get other health checkups or screenings?
This deserves another blog post exploring the good reasons people have for not seeking an evaluation. There is the obvious time and expense that could be necessary. Also, there is the sense that “nothing can be done” or that “doctors don’t listen.” And, of course, the difficult risk and bravery of confiding in someone else about things like thoughts of self-harm, sexual experiences, seemingly unusual thoughts or experiences like sensing “presences” or hearing a voice, or habits which one hides related to eating or gambling.
But humans can have only so many things that can go wrong, and psychiatrists are probably familiar with these. Psychiatrists get sick like everyone else. Psychiatric (mental) problems are real. We know a lot more every day about the medical science behind these symptoms, and we have effective treatments (as effective as in other medical specialties).
More on checkups, screening, and self-screening next time. Let me know what symptoms or problems you want to hear more about.