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I appreciated the excellent article regarding persons with psychiatric disorders in Washington, D.C. (“The Sick and the Dead,” 7/11). However, I do have a comment regarding terminology used in the article.
In the article, the term used to describe persons with psychiatric disorders”the mentally ill”is used no less than 21 times. This nebulous, pseudo-scientific term has been used for around 50 or 60 years to refer to persons with brain disorders, well before it was known that the disorders had a biological basis. The term was largely popularized by Albert Deutsch, a crusading journalist who wrote two important books regarding treatment of persons with psychiatric disorders, Care of the Mentally Ill in America (1937), and Shame of the States (1948).
Referring to these persons as “the mentally ill” (or as having “mental illness”) unintentionally perpetuates the ongoing confusion of a nebulous, hazy, and imperceptible social problem instead of a medical disease that has been firmly established as a brain disorder in the same category as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, or epilepsy. Reporters do not refer to persons with these diseases as “the synaptically ill”; instead, the common medical term, “neurological disorder,” is used. Likewise, other physical disorders do not use such archaic and inaccurate terminology. Then why, I wonder, do reporters continue to use a term that inaccurately describes physical diseases of the brain, such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder?
It would help immensely both those who suffer from these disorders and the public perception of these disorders if you would consider using the term “persons with [severe] psychiatric disorders” instead of “the mentally ill.” Until we start using terminology that places psychiatric disorders on an equal plane with other physical diseases, the public will never put them on an equal plane, either, and the same types of articles will probably continue to be written in 2053.