“So how would you define a “mental illness,”? How would you distinguish it from “normal suffering?” This is an ancient question which many have tried and largely failed to answer, both personally and collectively. For this reason I can’t give you a universal definition, only my own understanding of this temporary condition. In an important book for the psychiatric reform movement in Germany from the 70’s, ‘Irren ist menschlich’ (which can’t really be translated, but ‘Mad to be normal’ comes close, and that’s probably where they took the Laing film title from), the authors offer this definition: “A mentally ill human is a human who, in attempting to solve an age-appropriate task, gets stuck at a dead end. This result we call illness, affront, disturbance, suffering, deviation. It is a universally humane possibility; that means it is, for all of us under certain inner or outer circumstances, a means of expressing that a situation ‘can’t go on like this’. Hence this possibility is internally accessible and fundamentally known to us all.” I think they’re onto something with this. And importantly, it addresses the notion of external abuse and oppression which you highlight: Why is it an ‘illness’ if the circumstances are oppressive? Why is it an ‘illness’ if the cause is man-made? The ‘illness’ is the personal reaction expressing that a situation can’t go on like this. And regardless the cause, this is not primarily an expression on a societal, or communal, or even familial level, but deeply personal: I can’t go on like this. It is the personal suffering, taken as a prerequisite for any definition of mental illness, that comes to light. To ensure change, I think it is helpful to name this temporary condition. Sure, we can then argue about which term is best used, but first we need to agree on the phenomena we are trying to elucidate, and I think ‘mental illness’ goes a long way in enabling such a common language.