I consider myself pretty lucky. In my years living with depression I don’t think I’ve experienced any overt stigma from anybody (granted, I can be dense at times, so who really knows). When I have shared with friends what I experience I’m usually supported, and greeted with, “If there’s anything I can do just call me.” And I appreciate that; it truly means a lot to me.
However, in everyday conversation I still hear many people use mental health terms inappropriately, and it’s a little rude and hurtful.
“She’s just crazy! She needs to be institutionalized!”
“He must be bipolar or something!”
“Anybody who does that has got to have issues!”
“It must be my OCD kicking in.”
I’m lucky to be have so much love spread to me, but I can’t help but wonder why we can’t afford strangers the same kindness. Why do most people still use mental illness as a way to describe people? I don’t see myself as crazy or other people I know who experience mental health problems. What is crazy is that we still misuse these terms.
I don’t want to be “one of those people” who are offended by everything, which seems to be the common trend for anybody with a Facebook account and Internet access. But using these words inappropriately really is offensive. If you have ever met somebody who actually lives with OCD you may be less inclined to using a phrase like the one above. People living with a mental illness are truly struggling and using these words make it harder for people to open up and talk about their struggles. It also really belittles the experience. To continue with the OCD example: enjoying tidiness and having your pens a certain way doesn’t come close to experiencing 24/7 obsessive thoughts about NEEDING to have items a certain way and the unforgiving anxiety and compulsions that comes along with it. The two are not the same and even making the comparison takes away from the real lived experience of someone with OCD.
I’m not perfect. I have definitely misused mental health terms and have been less than kind with my words. However, I continue to make an effort to use respectful language throughout. I remind myself that you never know what people around you are going through. If I can perhaps be the difference between somebody opening up about their struggles or remaining silent, I’ll keep making the effort to be respectful and use appropriate language.
If you’re not well-versed in respectful language – that’s okay! This sheet from Partners for Mental Health can help you with some language dos and dont’s as well as explanations for why the language is preferred. Remember that your words are powerful – spread some kindness this week.
About Cassie S
25 year old psychiatric nursing student. I live with depression off and on and have since I was 12. Learning to ride the waves as they come. I'm an introvert who enjoys reading, art, and spending time with friends and family. I also really enjoy being active: running, biking, hot yoga, dodge ball and slo-pitch are a few favourites.