For a long time, certain extreme or extraordinary conditions of the mood and psyche have been referred to as "mental illnesses."
This terminology has been widely accepted and utilized when discussing cases of abnormal behavior and thoughts. As someone with their own "mental illness," I have used the term in the past. My doctors and the professionals around me have also used it.
Lately, though, I have tried to catch myself in my use of the phrase. Instead of saying "I have a mental illness," I'll say, "I am a person who is living with (specific diagnosis)". I began making this change after hearing myself say it in a recording and realizing I was offended by its implications.
"Illness" comes with a lot of negative connotations: weak, flawed, helpless, wrong. To be ill is to be not well, not normal, and not your usual self; however, for people who have been diagnosed with a mental health condition, equating their mind with illness is problematic in how stigmatizing it is.
Mental health diagnoses are not equivalent of an individual's complete personality or character, and they do not define that individual. However, a diagnosis can often feel like an identity, due to the way our mental health affects every aspect of one's life. In my life, I have gone through periods where I, and sometimes others, labeled and defined myself by my diagnosis.
With mental health and identity so intrinsically linked, labeling a given mental state as an "illness" confers the same negative connotations to the individual, implying they are broken, weak, or helpless.
Not only does this belittle and undermine one's experience of mental health, but it also romanticizes "mental illness" in general. The idea that someone is broken leads to the rationale that people with such diagnoses are incapable of handling themselves and need to be saved.
You can't "heal" someone with a mental health condition because they aren't broken, to begin with. The reality is that mental health conditions are patterns of thinking and rationalizing that do not align with the defined "norm." Obviously, there are difficulties and dangers that can accompany mental health conditions, but there are also millions of people diagnosed with mental health disorders who lead productive, positive, and full lives.
I am not diseased because I think and feel in a way that is different from yours. Yes, I may ask for help or patience on occasion, and sometimes I need to work on changing my patterns of thought, but I am not helpless or broken. There is nothing wrong with me, I am just learning how to think in a way that I was never taught how to because my psyche doesn't operate the same way that the "normal" populations do.
I'm not ill, or pathetic or needy. I'm just a human being, diagnosed with a mental health condition.