NASNIcares advocates to improve the life circumstances of people who are commonly described as suffering from ‘mental health issues’ or serious ‘mental illness’.
There are thousands of organizations that operate under the banner of mental health advocacy. Why do we need yet another organization engaged in the same kind of advocacy? Answering that question points to another set of questions:
How much difference have those organizations made to improve the lives of the people they advocate for, and moreover, what and who exactly are they advocating for? What exactly do people mean when they talk about mental health? What does “mental illness” mean anyway?
It takes a lot of unpacking to delve into what and who they are advocating for and that is because mental health and mental illness are increasingly being talked about as if they are the same thing…but they are not.
What is Mental Health?
Mental health is about our psychological and emotional well-being and ability to be well-functioning and resilient in the face of life’s challenges. It is about our sense of self-esteem and how well we socialize with others.
What is “Mental Illness”
Merriam-Webster defines mental illness as:
Even though NASNIcares does not use the term “mental illness” to describe illnesses such as major “depression”, “bipolar”, and “schizophrenia” (there is a reason why these terms are in quibble quotes, but that explanation is beyond the scope of this page), it is more effective to explain this conflation with the terms that most people are using when they converse about these topics. However, NASNIcares deems the term ‘mental illness’ to be deeply problematic and objecting to the terminology is not just a benign semantic quibble. Common definitions of “mental illness” are not without flaws. Take for instance, the idea that mental illnesses cause marked distress – perhaps that comes from certain belief systems about the root causes of these conditions. Yet, in some of the most severe of this class of medical conditions, the afflicted person may not be distressed at all because they have a neurological blockade to awareness of illness. The individual may think they are perfectly fine while others around them can see that the person is terribly ill.
At present, NASNIcares uses the terminology brain disorder or brain function disorder. The term function denotes that the brain is not functioning properly but that the underlying cause may be something other than a structural or other pathologic condition with the brain itself or that there may be a systemic cause that science does not yet understand or have the diagnostic tools to analyze at this point in time. The term ‘function’ does not denote functional – as in FND (functional neurological disorder). Psychiatry and Neurology have troubled histories with the term functional – meaning that subjective or observed symptoms are medically unexplained symptoms (MUS). Medical science, although great discoveries and advancements have been made, is still on the leading edge of a vast frontier of discoveries yet to be made where the brain’s semblance of mind is concerned so it is hubris to write off things that are “medically unexplained” as functional.
Clearly, these serious illnesses affect the mental state and emotions of afflicted persons. The problem is that this term is fueling misunderstanding, leading people to think that these illnesses are afflictions of the “soul” or “spirit”, or that people just “snap” in response to stress or trauma, or that people become “emotionally disturbed” as a result of inability to cope with life’s difficulties – all of which describe mental health, not neurodevelopmental or genetic medical conditions that manifest through disruption in the brain’s semblance of mind, through impaired cognition, mentation and altered states of consciousness. The mind is an abstract thing, the brain is not. The mind can only be “ill” in a metaphorical sense.
How does it makes sense to use the same terminology, “mental health” to simultaneously describe a psychological maladjustment or response to adversity, such as the loss of a loved one or a job or the dissolution of a marriage and a grave neurodevelopmental disease? NASNIcares believes that it does not make sense at all. Psychiatry does not use differential terminology where it should – The same words or terms are used to define, characterize, and classify both psychological (mental health) issues and medical/neurological phenomenon. If differential diagnosis is critically important in medicine than so should be differential terminology. Psychology and neuropsychiatry need divergent lexicons. In a nutshell, there is a crisis of nosology and nomenclature. This problem has deep historical roots.
Aside from the matter of lexicon, NASNIcares’ position is that psychologists should tend to problems of the psychosocial mind (i.e. psychological or mental health issues) and medical doctors (known as psychiatrists…we wish that would change) should tend to diseases and disorders of the brain’s semblance of mind. Medical disorders such as bipolar, “schizophrenia”, and neurological (vs psychological) depression are neurological disorders and should be the exclusive domain of medicine.
So back to the question: How well are advocacy orgs doing to achieve their goals?
In marketing, there is a term called Mindshare. Mindshare describes the amount of consumer awareness or popularity surrounding a particular product, idea, or company.
These days, you can’t turn on the radio, watch tv, or browse media content online without hearing about or encountering an ad about Mental Health. Celebrities and public figures openly talk about their own mental health struggles.
To answer the question: These organizations are doing exceedingly well at promoting mental health awareness! Mindshare of their messaging is off the charts!
A Different Approach to Advocacy
You won’t find many advocacy organizations expressing the ideas on this page and a large cohort of the mental health clinical, academic, and advocacy industry is actually promoting conflation of mental health with “mental illness” as an extension of fallacious beliefs about what causes serious so-called mental illness. That is why NASNIcares was formed – to pursue a different approach to advocacy by addressing how misconceptualization of these medical conditions – and the terminologies used to describe them are leading to harmful public policies and injustices.