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February 6, 1978

A Patient Is Not a Disease

Author Affiliations

Haverford, Pa

JAMA. 1978;239(6):495. doi:10.1001/jama.1978.03280330031007

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To the Editor.—  Some psychiatrists have objected to the practice of referring to persons by their diseases or their diseased parts. Internists and surgeons have been advised not to speak of the gallbladder in bed 3, the appendix in bed 1, or the pulmonary embolism in bed 2. Physicians have been urged, correctly as I believe, to attend to the whole person, but we psychiatrists are in the habit of speaking of this schizophrenic or that manic-depressive or that obsessive-compulsive. It might be well if we were to remind ourselves that mental illness is not the whole person but only a part of the person, and that if we persist in equating a person's mental illness with him, we run the risk of unwittingly assuming a condescending attitude toward him and the further risk of influencing other persons to assume the same attitude toward him.