Telling someone I have Bipolar Disorder never gets the type of feedback I anticipate. It almost seems as if the disorder is nothing to worry about or no big deal. In college, having a mental illness can seem to be the norm as students use the terms depressed or anxious so lightly. Daily, I hear statements like “this assignment makes me so depressed” or “I’m so OCD about my grammar.” It can make people like me who have been diagnosed and suffer from mental illness feel as though their condition and symptoms have been minimized.
It is remarkable that people have become so much more accepting toward individuals with mental illness. I agree that the normalization of mental illness has reduced the stigma toward it. In fact, 60 percent of college-aged (18-25) adults view seeing a mental health professional as a sign of strength. It is easier now than ever to be open about how one feels to their friends, family, or a professional. However, the misuse of clinical terms to describe personality traits and normal emotions can create a confusing environment for someone trying to distinguish between a common experience or a diagnosable illness they should seek help for.
If this person were to brush off their depression as just another common emotion due to its frequent misuse among his or hers peers, he or she may never seek help, which can unfortunately lead to devastating effects and even suicide.
According to one report, 49 percent of Americans use mental health terms incorrectly in order to describe themselves or others. Many more use these terms metaphorically with phrases like “the weather has been so bipolar” or “her outfit looks schizophrenic.” A consultant psychiatrist from Queen’s Medical Centre in Nottingham, Arun Chopra, described how someone would not use a metaphor “[…] in relation to a physical condition. You wouldn’t hear someone being described as a bit diabetic.” Even if the misuse of the word did not offend someone suffering with diabetes, the meaning of “diabetic” may become misconstrued.
Additionally, it can also prevent someone from seeking the help they need. Consider this: someone suffering from clinical depression may hear all their peers using the word depression interchangeably with the word sadness. Sadness is a normal emotion displayed by humans and there is an enormous difference between feeling sad and feeling depressed. If this person were to brush off their depression as just another common emotion due to its frequent misuse among his or hers peers, he or she may never seek help, which can unfortunately lead to devastating effects and even suicide. Sadly, over 90 percent of those who take their own lives have a diagnosable mental illness.
These distorted views can cause a multitude of issues as well as an increase in misdiagnoses. This is why it is important to be well informed about the meanings of different mental health terms and how to use them in their correct context. Before being diagnosed myself, I could not make any sense of my feelings and I did not know how to describe them. Many other individuals experience this same dilemma. The ability to identify whether someone may be suffering from mental illness could save a life; perhaps even your own. Below is a helpful link to a website listing the types of mental illnesses and their symptoms, so that you can not only have a better understanding of them, but also refrain from misusing these terms.