Welcome: What is “Mental Illness”?

Currently, millions of people have received a diagnosis of a mental illness. If you are one of these people, you may have found that receiving such a diagnosis prompted you to question or change how you think about yourself, your experiences, and/or your future. For example, it may have caused you to wonder which of your feelings are “really yours” —and legitimate reactions to events in the world, versus which ones are, instead, “just the illness”; you may have been told that your mind is malfunctioning in certain ways, or that you have a “chemical imbalance”; you may even have been wrongly told that you won’t be able to handle college, or ever keep a serious job, or have a long-term relationship, or kids, or live independently. Even if you haven’t been told these things explicitly, harmful and inaccurate stereotypes in our society may have caused you to believe them.

The main purpose of this website is to inspire you to forcefully challenge such beliefs if you find them harmful or limiting, and to inform you of alternative options for how to think about your diagnosis and what it means. Many people understandably don’t even think to question what they are told about their diagnosis. However, the views above are not the only options; they have not been proven, and many persons with diagnoses, psychiatrists, philosophers, neuroscientists, and others have provided good evidence to challenge them.

I offer this website as a source of new options for thinking about yourself and your mind. My hope it that is serves as an artifact in the world that individuals may stumble upon, inspiring them to re-envision the meaning of their minds’ extreme states, and to help them break out of labels that they find harmful and hurtful. I know many individuals who had spent years thinking about their psychiatric diagnosis one way (often as “just” an illness), until they chanced upon alternate possibilities that offered them more peace, acceptance, and self-love.

First, you should know that you are not alone. Many studies say that anywhere from 25% to up to 83% of people in the United States either currently have a psychiatric diagnosis, or will sometime in their lives (see, for example, Schaefer, J. D., Caspi, A., Belsky, D. W., Harrington, H., Houts, R., Horwood, L. J., et al. (2017). Enduring mental health: Prevalence and prediction. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 126(2): 212–224. http://doi.org/10.1037/abn0000232).

Second, the page “Different Ways to Think About Your Diagnosis” (https://whatismentalillnessblog.wordpress.com/alternate-options/) introduces some new options for understanding what you have been told about your mental difference.