What’s in a Label? The Struggle to Define Mental Illness
How do we distinguish mental illness from genius or eccentricity? How do we define a disease whose symptoms can masquerade as personality quirks? Kay Redfield Jamison, a clinical psychologist at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine who has written extensively about her personal struggles with bipolar disorder, believes that romantic notions of mental illness can obscure a dangerous reality. For her, mental illness is by definition disruptive and painful. “Illness is illness,” she says. James Fallon, a neuroscientist at the University of California at Irvine, who also suffers from bipolar disorder, takes a more sanguine view. “If you looked through the manuals, you’d medicalize me into someone who was a basket case, but instead I’m successful and happy,” Fallon says. “On the other end of it, a lot these traits can be very good and creative things.”
Here, Jamison and Fallon join Elyn Saks, a professor of law, psychology, and psychiatry at University of Southern California Gould Law School, as they discuss evolving definitions of mental illness from both personal and professional vantage points.
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This program is part of The Big Idea Series, made possible with support from the John Templeton Foundation.