There is little justification for using the language of health and illness to describe and explain the human woes that fall into the category ‘mental illness’. Woe can be related to a continuum of ill-being and well-being, without assuming that one woe shares much in common with another, either causally or descriptively. Opinion surveys of users of mental health services indicate dissatisfaction with the current framework that medicalises their problems. Health as a political concept has multiple and confusing meanings when applied to ‘mental health’. Although somatic illnesses and human woes share many causes in common, the latter are not primarily disorders of body or mind. It remains to be determined what kind of response (lay, community, expert, or statutory) would best serve to ameliorate them. Throughout history, woes have been medicalised, resulting in mystification and misplaced efforts focused on the body.