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Jim Butler
November 2016.
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What is the difference between love and mental disturbance?
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I’ve heard this question before, and I think it’s an unfortunate one. The idea is based on the view that people who are in love and who are experiencing a mental illness share similar symptoms. Or that they have similar underlying biological processes.

For me, that is an unfortunately reductionist view of both love and mental illness. Love is a lot of different things and although some people who are in love may demonstrate symptoms they would not otherwise have – being more obsessional, for example – that is not the same as saying that they are experiencing a mental illness.

I also think comparing love to mental illness is demeaning for anyone actually suffering from a real mental health issue. It cheapens the lived experience of people who suffer from mental illness and only serves to perpetuate stigma against these individuals.

For me, even if we agree that being in love may sometimes make us behave in silly ways, that is a far cry from suggesting that someone in love qualifies as meeting the diagnostic criteria for a mental illness.

Viren Swami is the author of Attraction Explained: The Science Of How We Form Relationships, published by Routledge.