What Labels Do To Us

By now, most of us have already heard the line: As a society, we treat people w/ physical illnesses so differently than we treat people with “mental illnesses.”  Those last two words are in quotes bc I so wish we’d move away from using them together to define a class of people so broadly and discouragingly.


We’re so quick to try put simple labels on complex issues/topics, & this is what often gets us in trouble.  In an article I was passed today, condemning the way that our politicians have perpetuated the stigmas w/ their recent comments on the Parkland incident – an article written for a major publication – the author used the terms mental health & mental illness interchangeably, numerous times throughout. I’m sure the best intentions, but a clear example as to how confusion arises amongst people even closest to the topic.


Diving deeper into how we treat our mental vs our physical health complications as a society, consider what is common knowledge about the physical condition known as diabetes.  It’s a disorder of blood sugar levels, based on how the pancreas is/isn’t able to produce insulin. For some, it develops over time based on a combo of genetics &/or how we treat our bodies. For others, there seems to be a genetic predisposition for developing Type 1, regardless of our lifestyles.


Although the steps in the textbooks aren’t always consistent, the disorder is traditionally explained in stages: insulin resistance, a rise in blood sugar levels (pre-diabetes), actually high blood sugar levels (diabetes), pancreatic damage, & even a failed pancreas. We see physical signs within each step, & we are given recommendations as to how to reverse the trends (e.g., specific diet & exercise, etc.), or at least slow them down.


For those who have battled mental HEALTH complications, doesn’t the above sound pretty familiar: genetics & lifestyle often both playing a role, some more predisposed than others, steps to look out for as the complications progress, signs & symptoms & even ways to slow it down &/or reverse it?


Why then, as a society, have we traditionally bucketed mental ILLNESS as THE term, and you are either labeled as “sick” or “healthy”? Does anyone not believe that this label & the stigma associated w/ trying to bucket a very complex issue into one term, w/o greater understanding, is what keeps so many from asking for & seeking out help before major complications arise?


Let’s better communicate the concept that mental health exists on that similar type of spectrum as the steps explaining so many other physical health conditions. In mental & physical health, some are genetically predisposed, but over time, mental health complications develop – with symptoms & treatments, etc., like any other physical “condition.”  It’s time we move away from – you’re either mentally ill, or you’re not.


Thank you to a new friend & fellow MH advocate @erezshek who tweeted the following to me today:  “I view the way your group uses ‘crazy’ differently than how it’s been traditionally used. It promotes an understanding that no one is normal.  Like ‘we have this in common, everyone.’ (It) is not used it in an ignorant hateful sense, perpetuating the stereotype.”


#mentalhealthonascale #notmentalillness #weareallalittlecrazy #SameHere🤙

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