THE mentally ill

I know nice guys named Ned and Brad, so forgive me if this idea stinks.

But I’ve been wondering about using household names like NeD (Neurological Disease) or BraD (Brain Disease) instead of the loaded and long name Mental Illness.

Thanks to my friend Brad Lyons who shared with me this article that challenges all of us to renounce the term “the mentally ill.”

The article reminds us that it’s disrespectful and limiting to define anybody by a single characteristic.

Some examples: It’s better to say “people living in poverty” rather than “the poor” or “the LGBT community” rather than “the gays.”

This is known as “people first” language; it makes sense and honors the full humanity of a person.

Some people and organizations have made the switch from using mental “illness” language to mental “health” (Mental Illness Network became Mental Health Network).

Yet others, like major player NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) have stuck with the “illness” language.


Why do people get stuck with the stigmatized label “mentally ill”?

Since, according to NAMI, 1 in 4 adults experiences mental health challenges, then we are talking about something so common that it should be a household name.

So why not NeD or BraD?

Mental illness is a disease of the brain, so why not call it what it is…a neurological disease or a brain disease?

We say heart disease, we don’t say blood illness…that sounds pre-Enlightenment, like we are still performing blood letting or lobotomies.

When referring to a person’s mental health status, it sounds more evolved to say “she’s got a NeD or a BraD” rather than, “she’s mentally ill.”

This new language might take awhile to catch on.

Myself, I prefer BraD to NeD (and it has nothing to do with Brad Pitt or Brad Lyons).

Using person first language and dropping “illness,” replacing it with “health,” are two good places to start.

What other alternatives to “mental illness” language have you seen or want to try out?

Published by Sarah Griffith Lund

Leader, preacher and author of *Blessed are the Crazy: Breaking the Silence About Mental Illness, Church and Family*

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