Call it What it is: Mental Illness and not Mental Health

Consider the following:


A neighbor is sick with cancer.


She is a mother of three young kids and is in and out of the hospital. As her neighbor, you partake in efforts to babysit her kids, start a meal train, offer her support in any way, and be there for her family.


A different neighbor is sick with depression.


She is a mother of three young kids and is in and out of the hospital. To be honest, you really do feel bad. But you stay away.



Understanding The Differing Reactions

Why? For some reason, we, as a society, generally do not equate physical and mental illnesses. As a result, we cannot provide people with mental illnesses with the proper support.


When someone has cancer, we do not talk about it under the label “physical health issue” in order to feel comfortable. We call it exactly for what it is- an illness. A disease. Perhaps even a battle. A sometimes curable, sometimes treatable, definitely supportable ILLNESS.


The earlier someone is aware of the illness, the more likely it is that someone can be helped. Illnesses require knowledge and education. They require care and attention. They require compassion and empathy.


And so do mental illnesses.


Just like we promote physical health and raise awareness for physical illnesses, so too we must promote mental health and raise awareness for mental illness.



Words Matter

Our word choice reflects our hopes for our society – let’s label things appropriately and sensitively. Let’s not shy away from reality and undermine the problems we face (to varying extents).


Let’s stop employing euphemisms when dealing with things related to our brains and emotions. I am not scared of the word “mental” put together with “illness”. If we already treated mental illnesses as actual illnesses, we would not need to be breaking the silence- there would be no silence.


But right now we are too scared to talk, too afraid to get close to the thing, and very far from accepting it for what it is- an illness like all others.



Equating Properly Breaks The Stigma

There is room for mental health conversations, and those conversations are very important. They are critical. But when we talk about mental illnesses such as depression, suicidality, bipolar, and others, why aren’t we labeling those conversations as related to mental illnesses? Is that not what they are?


Unless we want to start labeling things like diabetes and cancer as “physical health”, I refuse to label mental illnesses as “mental health”.


Step number ONE to ending the stigma, and by definition subsequently better helping those that need help, is by equating physical illness and mental illness.




Please click here to read Shanee Markovitz’s other pieces

Please click here to read other pieces pertaining to stigma



Shanee Markovitz

Shanee Markovitz

Shanee Markovitz was born in Israel and grew up Southern Florida. She is currently in the honors program at Stern College for Women. Shanee is a big proponent of destigmatizing mental health and being open about it. Her own experiences, including her mother's suicide, have led her to get involved, speak out, and make a difference. She has written popular articles on numerous sites including the Forward and is in the process of writing a book about various mental health topics. She speaks in public forums about the effect mental illness has had on her life and the wisdom she has attained from her struggles, as well as the impact mental health has on individuals and communities. She is devoted to seeing the stigma of mental illness disappear during her lifetime. She would love for you to join with her on the quest to destigmatize mental illness and support those in need.
Shanee Markovitz

1 Comment on “Call it What it is: Mental Illness and not Mental Health

  1. This is a great article on equating mental health with physical health and eradicating the stigma. However, I don’t know if I agree with labeling ourselves or others as “sick.” Yes, we do have a mental illness, but we aren’t the illness. We aren’t sick. It’s a part of us among many that we experience. This is my take on it.

Share your thoughts