Sunday, 25 November 2007

Words, Part I

It seems a common phenomenon that individuals with a psychiatric diagnosis refer to themselves as "mentally ill". Psychiatry's illness-terminology is often uncritically adopted, even by people who don't adopt the gene- nor neurotransmitter story, who don't believe in "mental illness" as physiological illness, uncritically.

Obviously it is widely assumed, that words, terms, don't mean a lot. This is wrong. Language is a means of power and identification which can't be underestimated. It is not without reason that rhetoric and semiotics e.g. are sciences of their own.

My words, my choice of words, defines me. My words ARE me. At many discussion forums and websites one can read the well-intentioned advice that you shouldn't identify with your "illness" since you ARE not your illness. Preferably uttered by people who elsewhere at the same forum say: "I AM mentally ill".

I guess, we can agree that when an individual says: "I am a diabetic", that doesn't make him a "sick" personality. It doesn't make his mind, his thoughts, feelings and actions "sick". Unfortunately, it is a horse of a different colour when it comes to "mental illness". Because both, an individual's personality as well as a potential "mental illness", are located in the individual's brain. Consequently, it has to be this individual's personality which is sick. Can you take someone seriously whose mind, whose thoughts, feelings and the resulting actions are sick? Hardly. Nevertheless, this is exactly what the "mentally ill" demand: To be listened to and taken seriously. On equal terms with people who are not "mentally ill". On what basis?

This is in fact the same problem as with the slave who refers to himself as "slave" and at the same time demands to be treated as a free individual. An unreasonable demand. To adopt the "master's", psychiatry's, terminology, makes me which the "master", psychiatry, views me to be: a "slave", a "mental illness", a diagnosis. An unpredictable, "sick", defective and thus worthless thing, which there's no reason to listen to or to take seriously. Not only in the eyes of psychiatry, but also, consciously or unconsciously, in my own. One of several reasons why I chose to do without terms like "mentally ill" or any other terminology relating to a (brain) disease, when it comes to me personally.

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