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I Can’t Find The Word For This Type Of ‘-ism’ Or ‘-ist’

And it’s not from a lack of trying, the word simply doesn’t exist. Maybe there’s been no need for it, a word to describe a concept that is imbedded in societies around the world. Maybe it simply hasn’t risen to the level where society will take notice. Except, I believe, it has.

Let’s look at a few other notable ‘-ists’ from The Online Etymology Dictionary.


1932 as a noun, 1938 as an adjective, from race (n.2); racism is first attested 1936 (from French racisme, 1935), originally in the context of Nazi theories. But they replaced earlier words, racialism (1871) and racialist (1917), both often used early 20c. in a British or South African context.


sexist (adj.)

1965, on model of racist, coined by Pauline M. Leet, director of special programs at Franklin & Marshall College, Lancaster, Pennsylvania, U.S., in a speech which was circulated in mimeograph among feminists. Popularized by use in print in Caroline Bird’s introduction to ‘Born Female’ (1968).

How about

ageism (n.)

‘discrimination against people based on age,’ coined 1969 by U.S. gerontologist Dr. Robert N. Butler, from age + -ism, on pattern of racism, sexism. Related: Ageist.

In general, ‘­-ist’ is used when grouping people of similar beliefs together. In these three examples, the beliefs lead to various types of discrimination. Words that end in ‘-ism’ apply to the practice of that particular discrimination.

And these particular three have really only come of use in the last 75 years or so, when society decided it was time to take notice and acknowledge the prejudice being displayed and to do something about it.

But there is another ‘-ist’ and ‘-ism’ that are simply missing from our language. There is such a worldwide stigma for this particular group of individuals being discriminated against that I’d be willing to wager that you’ve been guilty of it yourself. I know I have.

So who is being discriminated against?

People with mental illnesses.

People like me. Perhaps like you or a family member.

There is no ‘-ist’ or ‘-ism’ to describe these groups or their practices. And these practices are very damaging to those who suffer from mental illness as they reinforce the sufferer’s own perception. We live in the same society as everyone else and we also develop prejudices against those with mental illnesses.

It sucks being prejudiced against yourself.

As I was searching for the proper word, I came across story after story of people being discriminated against because of depression, anxiety, PTSD… the list goes on and on. One story that caught my eye was written about three years ago, but still seems timely. The Portland Examiner featured a story by Jenny Westberg entitled Bias Against the Mentally Ill: The Last Acceptable Prejudice? The two-part article describes behavior we see everyday.

At work, in a store, on TV, on the news.

And while we don’t have a word for those bigoted against the mentally ill it seems we are not even sure what to call ourselves. Throughout this post, I’ve used the term ‘mental illness’. Should the term ‘psychological disorder’ be used instead? Or ‘chemical imbalance’? I don’t know.

But let’s talk about grouping the bigots instead. Hmmmm…

  • Mentist – Nah, sounds too much like ‘dentist’ and I don’t need my dentist mad at me.
  • Mentalist – Sounds like a damn TV show… oh wait.
  • Psychist – Reminds me of ‘cyclist’ and I know too many that I like

Unable to come up with something distinctive myself, I did a little research on the history of mental illness. I found this piece by Allison M. Foerschner  entitled The History of Mental Illness: From “Skull Drills” to “Happy Pills” to be very interesting.

The article describes some of the earliest treatments for mental illnesses, dating back some 7,000 years.

From the article:

Early man widely believed that mental illness was the result of supernatural phenomena such as spiritual or demonic possession, sorcery, the evil eye, or an angry deity and so responded with equally mystical, and sometimes brutal, treatments. Trephining (also referred to as trepanning) first occurred in Neolithic times.

A word in that segment caught my eye: Trephining which was the name of a procedure where

During this procedure, a hole, or trephine, was chipped into the skull using crude stone instruments. It was believed that through this opening the evil spirit(s)–thought to be inhabiting one’s head and causing their psychopathology–would be released and the individual would be cured (“Measuring”).

So the ‘cure’ then was a direct assault on the brain conducted by a trephinist.  



The barbarous nature of having a hole punched in your skull would certainly defer me from wanting to get help, very much as the stigma of mental illness prevents many today from seeking the help they need.

First of all, it can be very expensive. If you have insurance, you may or may not have coverage.  And while mental illnesses are supposed to be equivalent to physical ones in terms of coverage as required by law, there are still policies being written that deny this so-called mental health equity.

If you have to pay out of pocket, while worth it in my opinion, it will cost you.  A lot.

Then there is the stigma. People don’t want to admit that they need help. Mental illness is viewed as being the patients ‘fault’ somehow, a weakness of character, as an excuse.

There is also no ‘safety net’ in our health system for those with mental illness, no way for someone to get assistance if they need it and can’t afford it.  The largest provider of mental health services in the US? The criminal justice system.

To get into the ‘system’, you have to do something to get arrested for. Possibly be a threat to yourself or others. That does not help anyone, it is simply an example of ignoring a problem until it bites you in the ass. Now, not only are you stigmatized from having a mental illness, you are also a criminal.

Most people who have mental illnesses do not get arrested, if they are unable to get help they simply suffer, their families suffer, their quality of life decimated.

That’s the brutal truth of mental health care in the US. There are a lot of capable, caring individuals out there who want to help these people, but these people simply can’t get to them.  Whatever the reason, it is just brutal.

Much like trephining.

Even though I hate the fact that we have to have these words, I believe we need them.  We can’t fight against something that does not have a name, a distinct definition. I think these words will do:

  • Trephinism – an active prejudice against those suffering from a mental illness where the prejudice influences behavior
  • Trephinistan individual who practices trephinism

What does everyone else think?  Is there a better word or one that I simply couldn’t find?

© 2013 Scott Strange, Strangely Diabetic and

PS: This is probably a topic that I could Ignite

  • rpederse

    I’ve often said that mental health care in this country is fraud-proof. If you don’t need the services when you begin trying to get them, you surely will by the time you do.

  • Ditto what Sir Bob said.

  • Bennet

    This is brilliant: It sucks being prejudiced against yourself.

    This wonderfully encompasses a process of stigma that hinders treatment. The culture’s predisposition to see mental health not as a physical process but as a moral scapegoat compounds the problem by fostering the disapproval and discounting of conditions by patients themselves.

    • “Moral scapegoat” – that about sums it up

      Thanks Bennet!

  • carolynthomas

    Hoooo boy. Guilty as charged. That is, until I was stricken with severe and debilitating symptoms of depression following my heart attack. Before then, I’d always had a slightly sniffy attitude towards those who were struggling with depression. I’d harrumph to myself (and I’m embarrassed to admit, often to others): “Oh for Pete’s sake, why can’t they just pull up their socks and get on with it and stop feeling so sorry for themselves?” So you can imagine the shame and self-loathing I felt at my own apparent inability to pull up my own socks as things were falling apart all around me.

    While at Mayo Clinic after my heart attack, I learned that up to 65% of heart attack survivors like me experience significant depression, yet fewer than 10% are correctly identified. The stigma of mental illness is alive and well in cardiology. More on this at: “When Are Cardiologists Finally Going to Start Talking About Depression?” –

    • Thanks Carolyn, there seems to be a basic lack of understanding in much of the medical community, among HCPs and patients alike, that life changing events like a heart attack, stroke, or chronic diagnosis also can carry a significant mental and emotional burden. I think we’re starting to see some progress in this arena but it is slow and also hampered by societal stigmas about mental health