Is mental illness a disease?

Bryant Golden Blog

According to the American Psychiatric Association (APA), “Mental illnesses are health conditions involving changes in emotion, thinking or behavior (or a combination of these).” These health conditions impact one’s day-to-day life in social settings, work environments and/or family activities. 

There is some question within the psychiatric field as to whether mental illness is in fact a disease. There is no question that it is a medical problem that demands skilled physicians to diagnose and treat. 

According to Merriam-Webster, a disease is “a condition of the living animal or plant body or of one of its parts that impairs normal functioning and is typically manifested by distinguishing signs and symptoms.” When you hold up APA’s description against this definition, the answer seems simple. Yes. Mental illness is a disease because it impairs one’s normal day-to-day functioning and comes with distinguishing signs and symptoms of emotions, thinking and/ or behavior. 

So why the big question?

Mental illness does not come with lab tests in the same way that heart disease, cancer, and other physical diseases do. This makes categorizing mental illness as a disease controversial. It also slows up the release of medications by the FDA for treatment. According to an article in MDEdge, the evidence seems to point to mental illness being a disorder or symptom rather than a disease. There is still a lot of work that needs to be done in neuroscience before this answer can be fully nailed down. 

To learn more about mental illness and the definitions, here are a few sites to keep you informed: