Sometime in the late 1990s, I noticed that many of my Master's-level clinical social work students were describing their clients as having "issues" of one kind or another. I was familiar enough with popular culture to know that '"issue" was fast becoming the vernacular for "problem," but my pen didn't hover very long over the pages of these papers before it came to rest on “issues,” crossed it out, substituted "problems," or wrote “vague” above it. This went on for a few years, during the course of which I kept trying to explain to my students why I didn't like the term "issues." Some students stopped using the word in their papers, even self-consciously searching for a replacement when they realized they were about to say "issues" aloud in class. It occurred to me more than once the that students were merely appeasing what they perceived as a curmudgeonly fancy of mine, and I began to question why I had staked out this territory in the first place. Wasn't "problem" as vague as "issues"? Why was I fighting the cultural tide? What was MY issue?
Many of us born forty or more years ago can remember when "issue" represented a particular problem or topic under consideration, and when "taking issue" with something under discussion generally indicated that a substantive argument against it would follow. But somehow these uses of the term have been overtaken by the idea of "issues" as quite personal--that is, that they are emotional and/or psychological. If you say a friend “has issues,” this can refer to anything from a personality quirk to a severe mental health problem. Issues can be remarked upon but don’t necessarily cry out for solutions.