Winter 2014

Enough with the Demons

Descriptors for mental illness should be carefully considered, psychiatrist writes

Human headRobin Williams’ much-remarked suicide in late summer prompted the usual talk of a person struggling with “personal demons.” In a letter published in the New York Times on August 13, Ronald Pies, clinical professor of psychiatry at the medical school, noted that this recurrent terminology should be more carefully considered because of its likely interpretation.

“While the ‘struggle with demons’ metaphor may be helpful for some people dealing with depression, it may also invite the unfortunate conclusion that the person has ‘given in’ to her ‘personal demons’ owing to a weak character,” Pies wrote. “This could discourage the diagnosis of a highly treatable illness that has complex biological, psychological, social and cultural causes.”

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