Why I Hate the Term “Mental Illness” and You Should Too

Why I Hate the Term “Mental Illness” and You Should Too

After being a psychiatrist for over 30 years, I have come to hate the terms “mental illness” and “psychiatric disorders,” and you should too.

Here’s why.

Mental illness and psychiatric disorders conjure up stigmatizing images of lunacy in people who are mad, disturbed, unbalanced, or unstable, even though these adjectives apply to an extremely small percentage of people who struggle with mental health issues.

Being diagnosed with a mental illness or a psychiatric disorder insidiously taints or stains everyone who struggles with perceived issues of the mind, making them less likely to ever want to seek help for fear they’ll be diminished in the eyes of others.

By labeling these issues as mental health or psychiatric, people suffer in silence because of the shame they feel. Consider the rash of celebrity suicides of people who were too embarrassed or ashamed to ask for help (from Ernest Hemingway, Judy Garland, and Junior Seau to Robin Williams, Mindy McCready, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Anthony Bourdain). On the outside, they seemed like they had everything; on the inside, they were suffering.

If we do not erase—or at least lower—the stigma for these issues, many more people will unnecessarily suffer and die without getting the help they need.

But things are changing. We are now on the cusp of a new revolution that will change mental health care forever.

How Reframing Mental Health as Brain Health Changes Everything

My new book, The End of Mental Illness, discards an outdated, stigmatizing paradigm that taints people with disparaging labels, preventing them from getting the help they need and replaces it with a modern brain-based, whole-person program rooted in neuroscience and hope.

No one is shamed for cancer, diabetes, or heart disease, even though they have significant lifestyle contributions. Likewise, no one should be shamed for depression, panic disorders, bipolar disorder, addictions, schizophrenia, and other brain health issues.

Over the last 30 years, my colleagues and I have built the world’s largest database of brain scans related to behavior. We have performed more than 160,000 brain SPECT (single photon emission computed tomography) scans, which measure blood flow and activity patterns, and over 10,000 quantitative electroencephalograms (QEEGs), which measure electrical activity, on patients from 9 months old to 105 years old from 121 countries.

Based on our brain imaging work, it has become crystal clear to us that, as psychiatrists, we are not dealing with mental health issues, but we are dealing with brain health issues. And this one idea has changed everything we do to help our patients.

Brain imaging has completely disrupted how we help our patients get well, and this information can help you, even if no one ever looks at your brain. The human brain is an organ just like your heart and all your other organs, and you can only be as mentally healthy as your brain is functionally healthy.

Fortunately, you are not stuck with the brain you have. You can change your brain and make it better.

The End of Mental Illness is written by psychiatrist, neuroscientist, and brain health expert Dr. Daniel Amen and relies on the latest neuroscience and leading-edge brain imaging to show that mental health is really brain health. In The End of Mental Illness, he reveals the 11 risk factors that can harm your brain health and create “mental health” problems. And he shares the proven strategies he has learned after 30-plus years of clinical practice that will help you minimize your risk factors, enhance brain health, and end mental illness. Order your copy today.

If you’re struggling with anxiety, depression, ADD/ADHD, or other conditions, understand that optimizing underlying brain health is the key to getting well. At Amen Clinics, we use brain SPECT imaging to help identify brain problems and areas that need optimization and to create a personalized treatment plan.

If you want to join the tens of thousands of people who have already enhanced their brain health and overcome their symptoms at Amen Clinics, speak to a specialist today at 888-288-9834. If all our specialists are busy helping others, you can also schedule a time to talk.


  1. How much is this new book? When will it come out in softcover or paperback?

    Comment by KAY CAREY — December 7, 2019 @ 11:51 PM

  2. Please do a report on Pyroluria and mental health / seizures

    Comment by Darcy — December 18, 2019 @ 3:13 AM

  3. Labels today are used to code for medical reimbursement and to share diagnosis. Why not change these labels for mental illness to something like this, schizophrenia becomes “Brain disease #394-5”. Use whatever number code is used already.

    Comment by F jones — December 18, 2019 @ 3:47 AM

  4. I wish it was not so far away it sounds like what I am looking for and the help I need…

    Comment by April — December 18, 2019 @ 4:29 AM

  5. learn what Howard Mandel has to say about some doctors.
    there is an horrific crime going on where good people are being targeted by doctors

    Comment by Jane Kiesel — December 18, 2019 @ 5:05 AM

  6. Dr. Amen, I am overjoyed to read this post. For several years I’ve loathed the term “mental illness” for the reasons you cite. My brother suffered from schizophrenia. And he, too, felt stigmatized, which affected his willingness to seek and/or stay in treatment. The treatment was pretty awful for much of that time, with terrible side-effects, etc., but that’s another story. He finally died, not having the consistent care he needed. His brain was beyond help after 50+ years of chaotic care.

    Thank you for showing another way to view and treat brain conditions. I know it will make a difference. People who suffer from them need our understanding, Patience, love and support.

    Comment by Susanna Euston — December 18, 2019 @ 6:06 AM

  7. I don’t have the negative stigma a lot of folks, including Dr. Amen, have against labeling someone “mentally ill”. I was taught that mental illness is like any other illness, such as diabetes, and should be treated. I agree that mental health is determined in large part by how healthy one’s brain is, which is affected by one’s genetics, one’s lifestyle, etc. Dr. Amen’s book sounds like an interesting read to me. However, I am not sure we need to completely throw out the label “mental illness”. Dr. Amen’s approach reminds me of those who want to throw out the sin aspects of alcoholism (drunkenness) and disordered eating (gluttony, eating too much or too little). Though there can be genetic predispositions and chemical imbalances that trigger individuals to drink too much or eat too much, I do not believe this negates the fact that both drunkenness and gluttony are sins, which must be dealt with through repentance at the foot of the Cross.

    Comment by Pamela Orgeron — December 18, 2019 @ 7:41 AM

  8. I am a middle aged woman and when I was a little girl, I was taught that you were either 100% normal or 100% crazy. There was no middle ground. I had a quick intuitive hit when I was a girl that mental illness could actually be brain problems, but I was told that I was wrong. As a result, I grew up feeling morally defective and that I as a person was just “wrong”. I now know without a doubt that the stress of feeling like I was morally bad for experiencing “mental” symptoms actually did more damage to my brain and definitely prevented me from any possible healing. I now realize that I more than likely was born with brain problems like my parents were and that in my case slamming my head against pavement either exacerbated the brain problems I had or triggered them.

    Thanks to Dr Amen’s work, I now realize that I actually have a health problem and that I don’t need to feel shame or guilt anymore. The brain is an organ just like the heart; yet, no one tells a heart attack victim that she is “doing it all on herself” like I was told when I was growing up.

    Comment by Margaret — December 18, 2019 @ 8:19 AM

  9. Dear Pamela, Spot on. I’d say as good and important as Dr. Amen’s work is, following his advice uncritically could wind up “throwing out the baby with the bassinet” to use a well-worn cliche. Great post

    Comment by Bruce Linton — December 18, 2019 @ 9:00 AM

  10. Where are your offices located?

    Comment by Carmen — December 18, 2019 @ 10:20 AM

  11. It’s « solutions » like what you suggest that cause people to not seek help. I suppose you would tell a Jew he or she « just needs the blood of Christ »?
    People like you cause additional suffering in the world.

    Comment by Melodie Earickson — December 18, 2019 @ 11:07 AM

  12. When you go to the preorder tab, it gives you the price $25 and the release date, which is March 3rd.

    Comment by Janet — December 18, 2019 @ 11:18 AM

  13. You are not the Comedian Howie Mandel, he has OCD

    Comment by Shari Rotheiser — December 18, 2019 @ 12:06 PM

  14. God bless you I totally agree the stigmatism has to stop, people who have Diabetes don’t have problems getting treatment, drugs are not the only way to treat Brain illness, CBT and all the talk therapy and meditation, it is a physical reason some people suffer, and the brain should be looked at, not guessing how to treat the many illnesses that the brain may have

    Comment by Shari Rotheiser — December 18, 2019 @ 12:16 PM

  15. Hello Carmen, we currently have 8 clinic locations across the U.S.: https://amenclinics.com/locations/.

    Comment by Amen Clinics — December 18, 2019 @ 12:30 PM

  16. I agree with you. “Talk therapy” is good so long as the brain is balanced. However, if the brain is not balanced because of physiological reasons, the patient will get very little relief. I know this because this has been my frustrating experience.

    Comment by Margaret — December 18, 2019 @ 12:47 PM

  17. I have already shared this concept of this article with the House-Less, (Homeless) as we were passing out food yesterday. Just as we are happy to change the stigma of that title, Homeless, we are willing to change the title of the Mentally ill. And they are happy that we make these changes because of the stigma. But what term can we use? That will explain to both sides of the readers, as I write my articles concerning the House-Less?

    I share my experience with the House-Less of how I went into many different struggles thirty-years ago, being depleted of the mineral chromium.
    And after much prayer, I found my answer. So, I started testing what I learned, and sure enough, this was my answer. I lived that way for a long time. The difference between night and day.

    I am going to pick up a couple of books so I can let our friends on the streets read them. Once we get an outreach building, which we are looking for. We will have a walk-up window, which will serve healthy smoothies to our friends on the streets.

    Thank You, for all that you do.

    Comment by Bobbie Holden — December 22, 2019 @ 2:47 AM

  18. I like the term brain health. I believe brain function, along with genetic predisposition, probably affects our entire biological health.

    If brain non-health contributes to mental health issues or any connected health issues, why would “sin” be an appropriate connection?

    To believe “sin” is related to brain disease or any biological disease, would mean we believe good health belongs only to a handful of healthy people who are somehow ” without sin,” though they might sometimes participate in behaviors considered “sinful” by some groups.

    Further, how would we explain health issues that cause even the healthiest among us to decline in health and eventually die.

    There is no “cross” or prayer that prevents decline and death. It is an inevitable process.

    Comment by Carol Bardin — January 1, 2020 @ 10:26 AM

  19. interesting article!

    Comment by Doug Morris — September 27, 2023 @ 6:35 AM

  20. It'ѕ amazing in favor of me to have a sitе, which is good for mү know-how.
    thanks admіn

    Comment by chronic — November 20, 2023 @ 11:23 AM

  21. Grеetings! This is my first visit to your blog! We are a team of volunteers аnd
    starting a new initiative in a community in the same niche.
    Your blog provided ᥙs valuable information to wоrk on. You have done
    a outstanding job!

    Comment by concerti — November 20, 2023 @ 10:40 PM

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Leave a comment

Contact Us