Similar Meaning, Much Different Context

Human beings like to name things. If you think about it, we use names
constantly in our day to day interactions. Why do we do that? Why do we feel
the need to name everything?

The obvious answer is that names help us identify and understand our world.
Imagine if we didn’t have names. How would we get each other’s attention?
We would have to use generic words like “fella” or “dude” or even “hey lady!”;
worse, what if people had to refer to each other by identifying marks, such as
“old one­tooth” or “pimple nose”. Travel would be tricky. How would we know
which airplane, train or highway to take? How would we know when we got
there? Say you were going to New York City, but there were no names. I can
see the sign now: “Welcome to that one place with all of the big buildings,
traffic jams, muggings and angry people who are in a hurry.” What would you
do if you were fixing your car? You would be at the auto parts store looking
for the “thing­a­majig” or “doodle­bop” (actually that is what I call car parts
now). It seems like it would take forever to get anything done.

I think you get the point here. Names are crucial to human beings’ verbal and
visual communication.

Why then, is it so upsetting for some people to have a name to their
psychiatric problems? Often in my practice, I hear people use the term “label”
instead of “name”. In the English language, the term “label” versus “name”
tends to have a negative connotation. Nobody wants to be labeled a “nerd” or
“loser” or “trouble maker”. Along the same lines, in our society, names for
illnesses such as depression, anxiety, also carry a stigma for many people as
a label. It’s great and admirable to be named a Heart Attack Survivor or a
Cancer Fighter, but it can be embarrassing and ostracizing to be labeled a
Depression Survivor or Fighter of Alcoholism.

All of the medical problems mentioned above are just that: medical problems.
They all have a biological basis that is out of the control of the person
afflicted. In our society, however, people with mental illness tend to be
thought of or looked upon as making a choice to feel bad or have the problems
they do. Mental health problems are not quantifiable with laboratory data or X
Rays as are other medical illnesses. This, along with the fact that most
mental health problems affect behavior in a negative way, drives the
stigmatization of mental illness. This leads to people feeling “labeled” instead
of diagnosed or having a name to their medical illness; this finally leads to
people not wanting to seek help or discuss their problems. This means that
people are missing out on proven safe and effective treatments for their
illness. This costs our society billions of dollars per year in disability and lost
work. Worse, untreated mental illness costs those afflicted and their loved
ones, through decreased functioning, stress and broken relationships, in ways
that dollars cannot begin to quantify.

When a person goes to see a psychiatrist or therapist for a mental health
problem or illness and receives a diagnosis, it’s not a label or a negative
judgment. It is a name that provides a guide to help the provider deliver the
safest and best care possible for that person on the road to recovery.

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