What’s the Real Meaning of “Mental Illness?”

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Does the term, mental illness, really describe the right people? Maybe the truly mentally ill are those who have a total disregard for human lives. Read more on HealthyPlace.

What’s the Real Meaning of “Mental Illness?”

Does the term “mental illness” describe the right people?

Mental illnesses are defined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). The manual itself can be helpful in describing what someone is experiencing. The question is whether any of the psychiatric disorders, with the exception two, are “mental illness”.

What does it mean to be mentally ill? Stigma says it’s “sick in the head.” The DSM-5 defines mental illness as illness of the brain or trauma-induced disorders that can cause thought disruptions, psychosis, problems with mood, and more. These brain-based illnesses are significantly disruptive to life, but are people who live with these every day “sick in the head?”

What if we stopped using the term “mental illness” on people who are receiving or seeking treatment for an illness of the organ that happens to be the brain and instead applied it to people who willingly do the unthinkable: operating intentionally, out of pure hatred, violently attack other human beings.

The latest in a long string of horrific acts of violence is the tragedy that happened at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburg, PA on Saturday, October 27. Eleven people were killed and six were wounded during a religious service when Robert Bowers purposefully committed a violent hate crime. Are people like Bowers the true mentally ill?

Only two illnesses in the DSM-5 have aggression, violence, and a disregard for others as part of their diagnostic criteria: conduct disorder (adolescents) and antisocial personality disorder (adults). Maybe this disregard for human lives and the desire to kill those who disagree is sick in the head and thus the true foundation of “mental illness.”

Related Articles Dealing with the Term “Mental Illness:”

Your Thoughts

Today's Question: If you could redefine the term “mental illness,” what would your definition be? We invite you to participate by sharing your thoughts, experiences, and knowledge on the HealthyPlace Facebook page and on the HealthyPlace Google+ page.

From the HealthyPlace Mental Health Blogs

On all our blogs, your comments and observations are welcomed.

Feel free to share your thoughts and comments at the bottom of any blog post. And visit the mental health blogs homepage for the latest posts.


From HealthyPlace YouTube Channel

I'm Hannah. I Have Bipolar 2

Bipolar and Self-Harm: Why Do We Self-injure?

Bipolar disorder and self-harm. Why? Why do some of us with bipolar disorder self-harm?. (Watch Hannah and subscribe to the HealthyPlace YouTube channel for more great mental health videos.)


Most Popular HealthyPlace Articles Shared by Facebook Fans

Here are the top 3 mental health articles HealthyPlace Facebook fans are recommending you read:

  1. Disconnection in Depression: Signs and Tips to Reconnect
  2. When Bipolar Depression Lasts for Years
  3. Why I Stopped Hiding My Self-Harm Scars

If you're not already, I hope you'll join us/like us on Facebook too. There are a lot of wonderful, supportive people there.


Mental Health Quote

"Do not judge my story by the chapter you walked in on."

Read more mental health stigma quotes.


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APA Reference
Peterson, T. (2018, November 5). What’s the Real Meaning of “Mental Illness?”, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 19 from

Last Updated: November 6, 2018

Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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