Why do we put put the words "mental illness" in inverted commas?
We are very aware that people make sense of their experiences in many different ways. Here at Our Consumer Place, we endeavour to respect this diversity and honour that people have a right to come to their own understanding and make their own meaning. We don't think it's either possible or desirable to develop a language that we all can agree on absolutely to describe our experiences. Hence, we often use the language of "mental illness" - recognising that many people understand and relate to this language - while also putting it in inverted commas, out of respect for people who reject or critique this understanding.
"The dream of a common language ... is a totalizing and imperialist one" -Donna Harraway
Today, the language of "mental illness" is the dominant way public conversations are framed about experiences that may also be called profound emotional distress, madness, altered states, hearing voices, psychosocial disability, psyche-ache and a whole range of other terms too.
Many consumers identify with the concept of "mental illness" - they find that this is a helpful way to explain their experiences. For these consumers, this may include:
- a useful explanation of otherwise mysterious (or possibly shameful) experiences;
- a way to express what feels like a biological experience, beyond the control of will-power;
- (relatively) clear pathways to seek help, including accessing GPs, psychiatrists, psychologists, or other mental health professionals;
- a sense of hope for recovery, because there is an understanding of "what's going on";
- ... perhaps other reasons too.
However, not all consumers find the concept of "mental illness" useful, truthful, or OK. Some reasons include:
- an intellectually-based critique of the conceptual coherence of this term - for many people, thinking through this concept just doesn't make sense; (and no, this doesn't make us all "scientologists" or even necessarily "anti-psychiatrists"!)
- this concept tends to locate expertise outside of ourselves (i.e. it tends to make psychiatrists the ultimate experts). This can be very disempowering, and can be problematic when experts tell us that we have a mental illness and provide us with information that simply doesn't match our experiences. Rejecting the concept of "mental illness" has led many people onto other paths to explore their experiences;
- many of us have had so many different diagnoses that we begin to doubt they could all be true!
At Our Consumer Place, we don't want to tell anyone how they should make sense of their experiences, and we respect that we will all come to our own understanding. Because of this diversity, we put "mental illness" in inverted commas, to honour this diversity.