A New Label for Mental Illness - Robyn Cruze
I am going to declare a new label for those with mental illness. I will call it
… drum roll please…
“A Strong Person's Illness”
— a true label for the powerful and the courageous. Here’s why:
There are labels and diagnostic codes for people like me. I have been labeled as many things over the years, such as “bulimic (F50.2).” The ones that have followed me and have stuck like a hot branding iron to my buttocks are, “generalized anxiety (F41.1)” and “reoccurring mild depression (F31.3).”
I’m not saying there is no place for labels in the mental health industry—Sure, they serve a purpose for treatment. That’s a great thing! But the downside is that they tend to overgeneralize a person—placing those of us who have some form of mental illness into a neat little box that subjects us to the stigma that has come along with mental illness for centuries.
I am not flawed, broken, and unfixable due to my mental illness, and I am not "mental illness," just as someone who has cancer is not “cancer.” Mental illness disorders are not moral issues or weaknesses. Many of the people I know who have struggled with such ailments are smart, funny, and powerfully creative people. Mental illness does not discriminate. It will ravage the poor, the billionaire and the saint.
I speak to many patients and families who have taken these labels and used them as if they were nicknames for themselves or loved ones. We all do it. Our culture is obsessed with putting labels on us all — mental illness or not. But here’s why I have a problem, outside of the insurance companies, we run the risk of minimizing the bravery, the humanness, the very core of the people who are ever so deserving of all that we can give to support them as we do with those suffering from physical ailments.
Those who struggle with a broken arm, after they have healed, do not call themselves injured-armed-victims for the rest of their lives. Yet, those struggling with substance abuse disorder call themselves alcoholics. Again, I understand that for some, this helps them gain acceptance of their illness, but they are not just the illness. My gosh, they are so much more!
Diagnostic codes and labels are tools used by professionals to help those struggling with mental illness access the appropriate level of care and navigate their insurance benefits. They are not instruments to define us as people.
Labels and codes do not tell you of my strength, my compassionate nature, and the creativity that makes me whole. Labels don't tell you of the courage of a young woman who left Australia on a one-way ticket to travel the world, determined to live and make her parents proud despite her ailments. Nor do they tell you about a successful TV actor, business owner, loving mother, and wife. They also leave out the crappy parts that I deal with on a daily basis and how, after a hard day, I will put my head on the pillow and feel like a courageous, strong warrior.
Who are you outside of the illness?
Robyn Cruze, MA is the National Recovery Advocate and online community manager for Eating Recovery Center.