LETTER : A name for the mentally ill

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The Independent Online
W ALAN Heaton-Ward asks why it is apparently politically correct to describe someone as "mentally ill" but not as "mentally handicapped" (Letters, 12 March).

The term "mental distress" is preferred in some circles, but for reasons that are more to do with factual than political correctness.

Since there is no proven biological cause for any form of mental distress (with a few exceptions such as senile dementia), the term "mental illness" denotes a theory rather than an established fact, and is seen by many as stigmatising and misleading.

On a more general point, what might be describe as "mentalism" is one of the most widespread and unrecognised forms of discrimination, and is greatly increased by the careless use of language.

Even quality newspapers frequently run headlines such as "Schizophrenic rapes three" although a headline "Black man rapes three" would rightly be condemned as racist.

Lucy Johnstone

Senior lecturer in Clinical Psychology

University of the West of England, Bristol