Language surrounding Mental Illness

Today I’d like to briefly talk about an issue I have come across a great deal in my daily life. I’ve noticed that people tend to use certain phrases referencing mental illnesses to describe everyday events. These phrases seem innocent but often can be insensitive to people actually experiences these mental illnesses. Now it is not my intent to be overtly politically correct or act as the thought police, but I thought I would write about this issue to maybe help people reflect on the things they say and the impact it could have on them. I’ve listed some common phrases below that I believe can have quite a negative impact on listeners.

*experiences minor inconvenience* ‘I’m gonna kill myself’
As a member of Generation Y, this is something I’ve come across a lot. It’s often said jokingly and without a second thought. As someone who has been genuinely suicidal I have three major issues with this phrase. Firstly, it trivialises suicide, a very serious thing, and acts like it is no big deal. Secondly, it paints those who are suicidal or attempt suicide as dramatic. It depicts suicide as something impulsive and thoughtless that could be done at the drop of the hat. This perpetuates the stereotype that people with mental illnesses are just being dramatic and over-reacting to life’s problems. Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, comments like this are quite triggering to those who have been through suicidality.

‘The weather is so Bipolar’
I hear this a lot living in Melbourne. As someone with Bipolar, this is a phrase that particularly irks me. Comparing the seriousness of a mental illness such as Bipolar to the weather is an utter over-simplification of the experiences that come with the condition. It also emphasises the unpredictability that can offer come with Bipolar, making those living with the condition feel under valued and belittled.

‘That’s so depressing’
This is a phase often used to describe movies or sad stories. The essence of this statement is that something that makes one sad is comparable to depression. This cheapens the experience of depression by comparing it to simply feeling sad. In reality, depression is so much more complex and involves not just feelings of sadness but changes in thoughts and behaviour as well.

‘I’m so OCD’
People often use this phrase when describing a quirk about themselves such as liking things colour coded or orderly. Similar to the previous points, this strips away the complexity of experiences of people with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. It reduces the condition down to one symptom and removes the seriousness of the illness.

The words we use have a serious impact on how we think about issues such as mental ill-health. It is important to be sensitive when discussing mental illness. 1 in 5 people are affected by mental illness so it is inevitable that there is risk of offending or upsetting someone. To my mind, the English language is filled with many rich analogies and metaphors that we can use without trivialising mental illnesses.

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