Where do mental health labels come from? Who invented the diagnostic language that we use to
describe our mental health and who defines who fits into these categories?
The DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual) is a dictionary of terms that define mental health disorders.
New terms are being invented every day, and many corrections to old modes of language have yet to be added
to the DSM. The term “Mental Illness” was coined by Johann Christian Reil in 1808, a German Psychiatrist. Many
current labels use “disorder” instead of “illness” while alternative labels go farther to reframe using
language like Mental Health Difference. The word “difference” doesn’t cast the condition in a negative
light, and just means alternative to the norm. One of the first types of mental health diagnosis is still
perhaps the most triggering; “Schizophrenia” which was developed in 1908 by Eugen Bleuler, a Swiss
psychiatrist. The term has many meanings, one is the breakdown of thought, emotion and behavior, not
to be confused with DID (Dissociative Identity Disorder). Other labels that attempt to break down stigma
reframe older language of “Manic Depression” into “Bipolar Disorder”. Labels like Anxiety and
Depression are much more common than Schizophrenia or Bipolar especially in the casualness in which
they are used.
Alternate ways to describe people with similar conditions are “partner” or “participant”,
as opposed to “patient” or “consumer”, terms that can be highly contested. Some mental health labels
are used to describe an era, like The Age of Anxiety, known by some to be the 1950s. Surely most of the
conditions we use as labels can be chalked up to the human experience or having a stressful
environment. It’s when your functioning is suppressed or non-sufficient that one is most often deemed
to have a disorder. Labels can often be triggering onto themselves, and it’s up the person with the label
if they want to identify with that word and fight the stigma attached. The health labels we use have a
life of their own, and their meaning can be re-made in whatever place we see them fit, whether good,
bad or indifferent.