The Danger of Using Labels to Describe Individuals with Mental Illness

Countless people use labeling terms like “the mentally ill” or “he’s a schizophrenic” without a second thought – especially among providers of mental health services. Few see the wrongs in that. But I’m here to tell to explain how imperative it is to avoid these terms, which are detrimental in the fight for equal treatment of individuals with mental health issues.
There is a distinct difference when you use a label versus a phrase that separates the person from the illness. I’ll begin with a generic example everyone uses:
“He doesn’t tell the truth. He lies.”
versus
“He is a liar.”
In the first phrase, we are describing his  actions. Actions that just about every person on earth commits.
In the second phrase, we are tying the action of lying to his personality and characteristics. Once labeled as a liar, you expect things associated with liars – all negative things, such as ill will and manipulation – from him. I’ll say this again. You expect the things associated with liars from him in his previous and future behaviors.
Another example is a something I strategically use to make myself look better during job interviews.
“I work hard”
versus
“I’m a hard worker.”
Which one is more appealing to the person interviewing me? The latter. Being a hard worker is my identity, and I convey this by labeling myself.
Given how much stigma (i.e. discrimination, prejudice) surrounds mental illness, equating people with their disorder ties them to their symptoms and the effects of their disorders. 
And what’s equated with those labels right now? Disabled, weak, incapable of working, incapable of taking care of herself, crazy, moody, unreasonable, lunatic, sick, ill, and more.
No one should have to needlessly carry the burdens of stereotypes, especially while struggling with the challenges mental illness provides. We are people too. We deserve to be seen as individuals with an illness – not be defined by our illnesses. 
Please, please, please do not fall prey to labeling. 
Now, I must recognize that when writing, it becomes easier to use one word, rather than several words, to describe a group of people, especially under the constraints of word counts. For example, news articles typically use “the mentally ill” and “schizophrenics” because they have a strict word limit. Certainly in my blog posts, it would be easier to use labels instead of saying “individual with mental illness.” However, given the stigma that is currently glued to the terms, I think it’s best if we avoid them. It’s a tricky subject though, I must admit. What do you think?

One thought on “The Danger of Using Labels to Describe Individuals with Mental Illness

  1. Kitt OMalley says:

    It can be awkward to use politically correct phrases when writing and speaking, but it is important to understand the distinction in meaning and connotation. On the other hand, I like how the queer movement took on labels that had been used negatively and put a positive spin on them – they owned those terms. Sometimes it isn't just a matter of language, but the connotations behind that language. Yes, I describe myself as having bipolar disorder, but what's wrong with “being” bipolar. I am many things, including bipolar, and bipolar is not a negative attribute.

    Like

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