I’ve been meaning to write this post for awhile, because of the disturbing trend towards mental health symptoms becoming offhand remarks, and because of the seeming lack of education around “people first” language.
Terms like “OCD”, “germophobe”, “schizophrenic”, “bipolar”, etc. are obsolete. It is not acceptable to refer to someone else as being “depressed” or “anxious”. This is where the “people first” language comes in. It would be proper (if not slightly labelling) to refer to a “schizophrenic” as a person with schizophrenia. Their mental health does not define them. Just as you would not refer to a person with cancer as “canceric”, never should the term “bipolar” leave your mouth without being the description of a disorder, not a person. They are also not people who are “suffering from” something either. This goes for all “diseases as adjectives”.
I know this is a subtle difference for those of you who haven’t experienced such hardships, but the difference for those of us whose lives are ruled by these things is enormous. In my experience, the bulk of my time is spent thinking about, seeking treatment for, and struggling with the symptoms of my mental health, and, quite frankly, I don’t need to be referred to as “depressed”. Labelling someone in this way can just add to the weight of the feeling that there is no relief from the disease. I may have Major Depressive Disorder amongst other things, but I am not “depressed”. It does not define me in any way, shape, or form, other than being a label that my doctors use to encapsulate my symptoms.
I realize that people have “slips”, and they often don’t mean what they say in a derogatory sense. Despite mental health’s still painful stigmas, it has become somewhat fashionable to use terms in a cavalier and flippant manner.
Terms that describe life altering, and, in some cases, completely torturous diseases, get thrown around as though they were meaninglessly describing the weather. If someone has PMS, or is feeling moody, suddenly they have been “acting all bipolar lately!” Or if they happen to be feeling scatterbrained, “Whoah, am I ever schizophrenic today.” “I had such a panic attack when I forgot my keys!” “I’m so OCD I had to wash my hands TWICE after using the washroom.”
Not only are the previous remarks completely ignorant and unbecoming of their user, they completely minimize (to put it lightly) the struggles of the people who are afflicted with these awful diseases. These are NOT terms to be used in this way. Think of the people who are, every day, having to deal with the drugs and the therapy and the not being able to have functional relationships and the not being able to enjoy life. Are you really feeling so OCD?
This is not something that I feel a lot of people have really thought about, but really should. I’m happy there are people in this world that have been so untouched by mental health issues that they feel it is “cute” to make light the plight of the affected, but unfortunately, they don’t realize the damage they are doing. This kind of talk only perpetuates stigmas. Stigmas only perpetuate shame.
And shame is the thing that prevents us from getting help.