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Time to abandon the term mental illness

BMJ 2001; 322 doi: (Published 14 April 2001) Cite this as: BMJ 2001;322:937
  1. Mary Baker, president of the European Parkinson's Disease Association,
  2. Matthew Menken, World Federation of Neurology liaison representative
  1. World Health Organization

    When we use the term “mental illness,” not “brain illness,” do we put our patients in harm's way? This is an appropriate time to ask, because it has become apparent in recent years that disorders of the brain and nervous system are among the most serious and prevalent health problems globally.

    It is harmful to millions of people to declare that some brain disorders are not physical ailments

    By 2020, diseases arising from nervous system disorders will make up 14.7% of all diseases worldwide (up from 10.5% in 1990), according to the Global Burden of Disease (GBD) Study recently carried out by the World Health Organization and other institutions (

    Although nervous system disorders comprise only 1.4% of all deaths, this study estimated that they account for a remarkable 28% of all years of life lived with a disability. Moreover, much of the burden of illness due to road traffic incidents, violence, war, …

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