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Rebranding Mental Illness to Brain Functioning Impairment July 22, 2010

Posted by Crazy Mermaid in mental illness, NAMI.
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The tainted reputation of the age-old term “mentally ill”, used to describe people with brain functioning impairment (BFI), has added to the burden of suffering caused by the malady itself.  In general, the public’s only contact with people suffering from BFI is when the term “mentally ill” is used in the news media to describe a person with BFI who committed a crime (usually murder).

The irony of using the term “mental illness” to describe brain functioning impairment is that it is an inaccurate application of the word “illness”. According to Thesaurus.com, the distinction between an illness and a disease is that the term “illness” means sickness or poor health, while a disease is an impairment of health or a condition of abnormal functioning. So in reality using the term “mental illness” to describe an impairment of brain functioning is certainly not the most accurate terminology.

One of the most fascinating points of brain functioning impairment is how criteria in the health spectrum are defined as either “physical” or “mental”.  For example, migraine headaches, although technically a BFI, are considered part of the physical health rather than mental health spectrum. This is because the manifestation of that BFI is physical pain in a specific locale.  In general, if you can perceive the manifestation of the injury in physical form (cuts and/or bleeding from blunt trauma to the head) or “feel” it at a specific location (migraine headache), then it’s thrown into the “physical illness” category.  If you can’t see a direct physical manifestation of the disease, then in most cases it’s deemed a mental illness. I’m generalizing here, but the main point is this: perception would change dramatically with the re-branding, since one of the points of the re-branding is to challenge the illogical way that BFI is categorized.

Eventually, with the advent of the new brain imaging tools, brain functioning impairment will hopefully take its rightful place in the ranks of a “physical” rather than the esoteric “mental” category, and will earn a more empathetic public persona.  Until that happens, however, there are things we can do to speed up a more positive view of brain functioning impairment in the public’s eye. We need to re-brand.

Re-branding the current term “mental illness” to the more accurate description “brain functioning impairment” (BFI), will go a long way toward solving our stigma problem. We can reposition the impairment term as the politically correct term, and phase out the awful connotations of the old term. At a minimum, rebranding will go a long way toward forcing the general public to change its perception of people with BFI.

For example, imagine how differently a news story would play out if the news media were forced to use the more appropriate and accurate description. “Joe Blow, affected with Brain Functioning Impairment, is a suspect in the murder of Jane Doe” would certainly go a long way towards stamping out the intolerance and embarrassment engendered by the mental illness misnomer. Forcing the use of the re-branded term BFI would put the proper emphasis on the impairment as the cause, rather than the murderer’s sinister moral bankruptcy.

Traditionally, in Lance Armstrong’s “yellow” cancer campaign, the color yellow, the shirt color of the winner of the well-known bicycle race, is associated with success and winning.  It’s natural for breast cancer survivors to fasten onto the color pink because of the color’s long association with females. Similar reasons tie Heart Disease Prevention to the color red. But mental illness?  Do you know what the color is? It’s silver.

Publicly promoting identification of the color silver with BFI is a natural first step in the re-branding effort. Selling silver wrist bracelets similar to the ones sold by the Lance Armstrong Foundation would kill two birds with one stone, generating both positive publicity and money to further support the re-branding effort.  Actively working to put a well-known face and personality to BFI will further the re-branding.

Please join me in pushing to effect this change by actively working to encourage and persuade major organizations like NAMI (National Alliance of Mental Illness) -info@nami-eastside.org (WA) or info@nami.org (National) and DBSA (Depression Bipolar Support Alliance – info@dbsalliance.org- to become a front-runner in our re-branding effort.  It won’t be easy but it will be well worth the effort.



1. moodmonster - July 23, 2010

I like Brain Functioning Impairment. Its certainly true; in many mental illness/BFI there ARE physical symptoms but they are not the ones that cause the most impairment. I’ve often found it interesting that people with “sleep disorders” are considered physical, when if anything (for me and most) bipolar is definintely a disorder of sleep! My theory is that as research continues we will find out why those anti-seizure medications (a ‘physical condition’) work so well for some BFIs… it because its all the same mechanism. Great article.

2. Victoria - July 23, 2010

I whole heartedly agree. Well said !!!!

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