“Mental Illness” vs. “Brain Disorder”

brain disorderI’ve seen the term “brain disorder” cropping up all over the place– a replacement for the term “mental illness.”

I like it.

It’s a better description, sounds more clinical (to me), and is free of the baggage that comes with the phrase “mental illness.” I think it suits the sufferer better too– it frames the person as a victim of a sickness instead of as a culprit. It’s more of an noun than an adjective. (Yes, yes, I know “mental illness” is a noun too, but so often we hear it used as a descriptor: she is mentally ill.  I don’t think people would say, She’s brain disorder-y.) It gets to be what it is: an affliction.

I’d love to hear your thoughts: do you like one term more than the other? Or would you suggest something entirely different?

Image credit: Dierk Schaefer

Tweet: “Mental illness” or “brain disorder”? Does it matter what we call it? [via @jackieleawrites] http://ctt.ec/oPbef+

10 thoughts on ““Mental Illness” vs. “Brain Disorder”

  1. I wish there were no labels, but unfortunately we have to. At first finding out an the cause of my anxiety was a relief, but that quickly changed ro shame. As a special educator and a person with a brain disorder, I have seen how detrimental a label can be. It becomes how you define yourself and then internally you begin to put sub labels about who you are. For example someone labeled learning disabled might start saying to them selves that they are stupid, not worthy or incapable. For me it has become increasingly harder not to let my ocd define who I am. Although there are many negatives to this, I find that feeling like I am a fraud is the hardest because I don’t talk about my ocd to others for fear of judgement. I often say if they only knew the real me, they would think I was crazy!

  2. I also prefer brain disorder and have begun to use it, interchangeably with mental illness, on my blog. I think I might go cold turkey and just use brain disorder from now o (hmmm I see a future blog post). I agree with all your points, Jackie, and also don’t like the separation of “mental illness” and “physical illness.” Our brains are organs in our bodies, just as our hearts, livers, etc. are, so I think brain disorders are just as physical an illness as any other physical illness………if that makes any sense!

  3. Interesting! I like “brain disorder,” but I also like the idea of continuing to use “mental illness” to get a more positive connotation connected with it. If someone like you or me has a mental illness, then it must not be as terrible as everyone thinks–of course, for some people it is very debilitating, and that should be recognized as well. I like your point about how it helps people separate the disorder from the person; OCD is something we have, not something we are.

  4. I have so much trouble with all the terms- mental illness has SUCH stigma attached and makes some people run for the hills when you tell them – ugh! I do like that it has word illness and that brain disorder has disorder because they are illnesses and disorders, not character flaws. That being said, I love my wacky brain and I think my brain is different rather than ill. Maybe “brain difference” lol

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