What Does It Mean to Have a Mental Illness?

MAR. 01, 2017

By Brendan McLean


The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) defines a “mental disorder” as “a syndrome characterized by clinically significant disturbance in an individual’s cognition, emotion regulation, or behavior that reflects a dysfunction in the psychological, biological, or developmental processes underlying mental functioning.”

The DSM-5 is a guidebook that is followed by clinicians, psychiatrists, therapists and other mental health providers to help them decide how to evaluate and diagnose when patients come into their office, hospital or other treatment setting. But like the walls of a hospital, the guidebook may seem a little clinical and sterile. It doesn’t provide much insight into what those illnesses really translate into for real people. It doesn’t explain what it’s like to live day-to-day with a mental illness.

No two days are the same, nor is each person’s experience. Beyond the clinical classification of what it means to have a mental illness, there is the personal experience that shapes the life of someone who is affected by these conditions.

So rather than coming up with one, clinical definition of a mental disorder, mental illness, mental health condition or whatever name you'd like to call it, we asked people in our Facebook community who live with and experience mental illness on a daily basis how they define it. This is what they said.

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