What Does It Mean to Have a Mental Illness?

By Brendan McLean | Mar. 01, 2017


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.

There is stigma in the mental health community about my diagnosis I just keep educating like I will in my peer to peer group I'm in run by NAMI. - See more at: https://www.nami.org/Blogs/NAMI-Blog/March-2017/What-Does-It-Mean-to-Have-a-Mental-Illness#sthash.5LCP6CFd.dpuf
5/4/2017 3:12:25 AM

Misti Cranford
Well my brother all mental condition, he died at 50 , now my son that went to college graduate double. Manor om political science he's 31 and had to be hospital for 8 months now he takes takes his meds want leave the house he gets so flipped out around alot of people and now I a having the seei g TBI GS that are not there and mood swings and they say personality disorder axixity along with how does this happen one day you are graduate from college smart no this what is going own they both are taking g to people I do t see and sometime they act right around d certai. People and they ti. Outside buck ass necked I need some help with the understanding of how ,my mom says my brother did drugs well my son. Does not do any now she blames everything g own drugs hereditary maybe I .need a book that explains this mothers deaf can't talk to her but she can read all she ever done was put him in jail 8months je was in solitary confinement by his self and didn't get no meds or treatment for6months in the jail please o need answers thanks misticranford4131@gmail. Com
3/18/2017 1:06:15 AM

Gail Diaz
Thank you all for sharing! I will show this to my son who has expressed some of the same feelings that you have.
3/12/2017 6:05:29 PM

Alicyn Leader
I don't see my dignosis as a mental illness just as a skill that I devoloped very younge in order to survive horrific conditions and experiaces. With out this skill I would not be alive today. It has become habit I've done it so offten to survive it has gone rouge. With hard work I stoped spliting after the major trauma stoped. I've integrated some and better lease on life. It's changing your coping skills and using your tools that are healthier that defines me. It's up to me to get the suport system and therapist and med Dr. and any other service that I need. Not take no for an answer because my diagnois isn't popular well repusented or people don't believe in it although it's in the dignostic manual under a whole class of disociative disorders that are seldomly talked about. There is stigma in the mental health community about my diagnosis I just keep educating like I will in my peer to peer group I'm in run by NAMI.
3/4/2017 11:07:52 PM

Stephanie Gardner
Do you know of any similar organizations in Canada?
3/4/2017 8:26:11 PM

It means not everyone will understand...
3/2/2017 8:01:13 PM

It is helpful to read these , thank you for writing them.
It is helpful to read this, thank you for writing your descriptions and feelings.
3/1/2017 3:03:35 PM

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