We distinguish between mental and physical illness. Why? Many illnesses we consider physical have a mental component, including ulcers, asthma, hypertension, irritable bowel syndrome, heart disease, urticaria (hives), and sexual dysfunction. And the illnesses we consider mental all have a physical aspect to them, namely the brain. Yes, the brain is physical. It’s not just some nebulous collection of emotions, thoughts, and brain waves concentrated in a person’s head. In addition, some so-called mental illnesses – anorexia, for instance – have readily observable physical symptoms.
Whenever we use the phrase “mental illness,” regardless of whether we intend to do so, we reinforce the false dichotomy of mental vs. physical, mind vs. body. This leads many people to question whether brain dysfunctions such as depression and bipolar disorder are truly illnesses, even when they have no trouble recognizing that that certain so-called mental illnesses, such as autism, epilepsy, and Alzheimer’s are physical.