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Saturday, 21 January 2012


The fairy blogmother has opened an interesting discussion on the term "brain disorder" and what it means to an individual.  Once again, we are divided by a common language and this time the word is "mental".  When I hear the word "mental" (without the qualifying PC "illness" after it), I hear a Grange Hill type insult, a pre-teen, pre-watershed, playground derision of someone, spouted forth in a urban accent, with a hint of fear and aggression all mixed in.

6. Slang
a. Emotionally upset; crazed: got mental when he saw the dent in his new car.
b. Offensive Slang Mentally or psychologically disturbed.

I suspect our American cousins hear a different word entirely:

men·tal 1  (mntl)
1. Of or relating to the mind; intellectual: mental powers.
2. Executed or performed by the mind; existing in the mind: mental images of happy times.
3. Of, relating to, or affected by a disorder of the mind.
4. Intended for treatment of people affected with disorders of the mind.

For those of you with the time, please join the debate about whether "brain disorder" is a more acceptable term than "mental illness".  Personally, I am with Katie.

"I have come round to the phrase, but it was only when Dr Insel added "circuitry" into it during his talk at the symposium that I really saw where he was coming from. Brain circuitry disorder makes an awful lot more sense to me. Before that, I approached "brain disorder" from the organic, but-there's-no-hole-in-my-head front. Brain disorder makes me think of lesions and visible pathology, brain CIRCUITRY disorder and the analogy of heart arrhythmias makes perfect sense"


  1. I too am with Katie and Dr Insel but resigned to the fact that the stigma around BOTH mental illness, (or brain disorders, psychological disturbance, spiritual unease, however you and your society describe it) and mental handicap (learning disability, mental retardation, educational sub normality...) is such that most words are going to end up as playground insults however hard we try (and we should continue to do so) to stop the playground bullies. I know that "special" is now an insult in many quarters.

  2. I'm with Katie too! Oh wait...

    Sorry, couldn't resist :P

  3. I cringe to hear ' mental handicap', having found (specific) learning difficulty a better descriptor. Brain circuitry disorder or malfunction makes more sense but, given the 'There but for the grace of God...' feelings of fear that so many people have around mental illness, that too would probably eventually become another term like 'spastic' or 'moron'. In a school near me, the term 'Sparkle' has become an insult!

  4. It's AMAZING to me how differently people hear the term "brain disorder" and "mental disorder" and "mental illness" and all the rest. What's worse is that for every person who has a phrase they use happily there are two who insist there should not BE a word or phrase at all: that labels are the problem!

    All this is interesting but has real world consequences in that we need a term to describe things so we can discuss them. If everyone's head explodes when we use a term we can't get into the conversation about what that item really is and how to address it. Right now we have different factions using different terms and angry at others for what they THINK the term means to the others -- and they are generally wrong about what Person A meant by it to start with.

    I'd be happy with going to using numbers if it would help get us past the terms and onto the problems!