Disorder Or Illness? Why Does It Matter What We Call Mental Health?

positive mental health patient

Is it a mental health condition or a mental illness? A mental disorder or a brain disorder? Should the way we describe mental health make a difference in how a condition, disorder, or illness is treated? More importantly, should the way we describe mental health make a difference in how a person is treated? Unfortunately, in a society full of shame, stigma, and stereotype, the labels we use make all the difference in the world. Perceptions based on terminology can greatly influence the way one is treated outside of treatment and the way treatment gets funded by the government or covered by insurance.

One Psych Central contributor argues that it’s a matter of what happens to a person versus who a person is. She emphasizes that physical illnesses, diseases, and disorders are perceived as issues which happen to a person, like an action taken against them. For example, someone diagnosed with cancer is not called cancerous. Yet, someone who is diagnosed with depression is called depressed. She elaborates, “We get heart disease, but we are bipolar. We get cancer, but we are obsessive-compulsive. Heart disease and cancer are separate from us. Bipolar Disorder and OCD are us. Indeed, many people mistakenly believe that those with ‘mental illnesses’ typically have no insight or understanding as to what is going on with them.”

Previous ideologies regarding the body’s ability to reproduce and heal itself didn’t go far beyond muscle and tissue. The brain is both muscle and tissue with the ability to regenerate. Addicts, alcoholics, and those with other primary or co-occurring mental health conditions change their brains. As the article points out citing research into neuroplasticity, the mind can change the brain. Numerous brain studies have revealed that changing habit, learning new things, and creating new behaviors doesn’t just change the way one thinks or acts but ultimately changes the chemistry of the brain. Neural pathways are altered entirely. “To me,” the author writes, “this is clear evidence that our brains are not who we are. They are an organ in our bodies that to some extent at least, can be trained.”

It is for this reason realizing recovery is possible is paramount. Recovery from mental health “illnesses” “disorders” and “conditions” is possible because changing the brain is possible.

If you are in need of recovery from a mental health condition which has disrupted your ability to control your life, help is available. Avalon Malibu proudly serves as one of California’s only certified primary mental health treatment facilities. For a confidential assessment and more information on our programs, call 1 888-958-7511.

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