On Mental Disorders
This blog post was featured in the Huffington Post on April 11, 2017.
Having a mental disorder like depression or schizoaffective disorder carries a stigma. People are often embarrassed if a loved one is mentally troubled.
I think this stigma stems from the fact that, until recently, mental problems were attributed to psychological causes. When a person struggled with a mental disorder, it was assumed that something was wrong with their upbringing, or that their parents did not provide enough love or care. Thus, the stigma.
If we attribute the mental manifestations of a person’s disease to psychological causes, we are assuming that the person (or those around them) is the cause of the disease. We are assuming that they should be able to control how they act, feel and think. Thus, the stigma. Thus, the accusation: you are not doing what you supposedly can do to avoid your disease.
However, up-to-date scientific studies show that the symptoms associated with mental disorders are caused by physiological disorders, such as a chemical imbalances or deficiencies. The difference between mental disorders and other physiologically induced disorders is that while mental disorders have primarily mental manifestations, other physiological disorders, like cancer, have primarily physiological manifestations.
Come to think of it, both physiological and mental disorders have mental and physiological manifestations. The difference is in the ratio. For example, physiological disorders may have 80% physiological manifestations, but they can also have 20% mental manifestations (in the form of symptoms like depression). In mental disorders, it is the opposite: 80% of the disorder may manifest in mental symptoms and 20% in physiological symptoms (like poor hygiene and eating habits).
Thus, it is erroneous to describe people confronted with mental symptoms of a physiological disease as mentally ill. It is not a mental disease. It is a mentally manifested disease. Instead of saying that a person has a mental disease (which will lead to a diagnosis that wrongly focuses on psychological and mental causes), we should say that the person has a Mainly Mentally Manifested Disease (MMMD).
Changing the name might change how we diagnose and treat MMMDs. Maybe this shift in terminology will remove the stigma, too. In the same way that we do not blame a victim of cancer for their disease, we will not hold a person with an MMMD accountable for their disease either.
Ichak Kalderon Adizes