If you're anything like me you've heard people scoff at the diagnostic criteria of any given mental illness and claim that those criteria could apply to anyone. Everyone gets a bit down, fears the end of their relationship or being abandoned by the ones they love. Everyone is scared something bad will happen to their loved ones, or is at times unable to see the shades of grey between the black and the white. We all know this is true, so what exactly is it that sets normal personality quirks apart from those of a disordered personality?
Quite simply, I'd say it comes down to severity. Sure, we all fear things in life but when that fear is so strong and starts to rule your life I think it becomes a problem, and then it gets labelled as an anxiety disorder. Everyone gets a bit blue from time to time, but when you're so down you forget to shower for three weeks and don't go to work because you can't get out of bed I'd say we're at the point of clinical depression.
As much as I hate to drop “Girl, Interrupted” quotes, I think the concept that someone with mental illness is “you or me, amplified” has a lot of truth to it.
When these personality quirks become so strong they impede our day-to-day living, at that point it becomes a mental health concern. Is that not the same as so many other physical illnesses? We may all get a bit of a tension headache from time to time, so we pop some Advil and get on with it. When it becomes a migraine so bad we're hiding in a cool closet away from all light and sound? Yep, that's a problem.
I really do think that mental illness is viewed so differently from these physical ailments, and I don't necessarily think we should view them any differently. A wrenched ankle is an ailment, and so too is clinical depression. Both deserve treatment, and neither one is more or less “valid” as an illness. To think this is to alienate a huge number of the population, and because mental illness is mostly such an invisible disease we really can't tell by looking at someone whether or not they have an illness.
An illness is an illness, regardless of whether it is physical or mental, and to be frankly honest all those members of society that scoff at mental illness haven't got a clue about mental illness and should be ignored. They're not professionals, they haven't done any form of education on the subject, and have no right to drop science on the subject. So you're well within you're rights to tell them to shove it up their ass.