Disability Studies and the Language of Mental Illness

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Katie Aubrecht


Disability Studies, language, community


Much has been written about the dangers of mental illness, both by psychiatry as an empirical reality and by anti-psychiatry as a cultural category (Szasz, 1960). This paper considers how the language of mental illness, and more specifically, the discipline of psychiatry, structures how we relate to our everyday lives. I examine how the language of mental illness, and the psychiatric practices which have made this language possible, have conditioned the development of a disability studies community, culture and identity. This examination will involve a critical analysis of writing in the field of disability studies which illustrates the complex interconnections and interdependencies between self-identifying as a disabled person and rediscovering the aspects of oneself that have been stolen or stamped out by the imposition of a language of mental illness. This paper also aims to uncover some of the implicit assumptions about the nature of the relationship between language, culture, identity, and community. 

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