Letter to the editor: Use the right word

To the editor:

I would like to ask our community not to use the term “behavioral health” when referring to mental illness because it suggests that we who live with mental illness are making bad decisions and behaving badly.

Judging us by our behavior ignores the fact that mental illnesses are like Parkinson’s or epilepsy which affect brain-mind function, producing symptoms that also affect behavior. Science does not understand the biology of mental illness, nor does it understand what causes many other mind-brain disorders that society accepts as “real illnesses.” Stigma and discrimination still exist when disabilities make people appear different, but in mental illness they are rampant. While “mental health” is accurate, “behavioral health” feeds the stigma that discourages recovery because health providers for mental illness are under-financed by a society that believes mental illnesses are not real illnesses but simply bad choices. Most suicides are by people with a mental illness, especially bipolar, clinical depression or schizophrenia. Symptoms like physical or mental pain, hopelessness, failures, lost jobs, fractured relationships, hallucinations, confusion, isolation and voices or delusions saying terrible things can lead to suicide. Why would, and how could, anyone choose such a life?

Living with mental illness is made more difficult by avoidance, rejection, judgment and criminalization. Talk and listen about mental illness. Open your eyes and read. Open your hearts and minds to end stigma. We need your acceptance and support now.