It's Time to Change the Language We Use Around Mental Health
All words have a textbook meaning, but they find different connotations or stigmas simply from the way people use them. They can eventually mean something entirely different from what the dictionary may tell you.
The labels of mental disorders should not be a part of our bendable language. They are not slang words; they are for an individual to understand their minds better and to find comfort in others who may share their experiences. But mental disorders have increasingly been used as adjectives to portray normal feelings or occurrences. This is troubling, not only because it makes it harder to know when someone is truly struggling, but also because it belittles those who are genuinely struggling and makes their problems seem less intense. Shrinking mental disorders down to a single action or comment makes awareness that much more difficult. Not to mention, it can harm the chance that someone will reach out for help.
An affliction of the mind should not be claimed as a characteristic behavior. Labels should not be thrown around as if they're just quirky personality traits. People think they're clever when they say the weather is bipolar because it was cool in the morning and toasty in the afternoon. But in reality, bipolar disorder can't be trivialized to fit with the sunshine or the clouds.
Stereotypical perceptions of disorders and the people who experience them come from film, news media, and even family. Negative prejudices are learned behaviors that are (not-so-surprisingly) being reinforced. Even one of my high school teachers has said something like, “if you’re a little OCD…” and students happily claim the title because of their slight affection to order. Another teacher has outright mocked young adults with mental disorders, saying it’s no excuse for falling behind. They ignore what a mental disorder may mean for students; they insinuate that anyone struggling would use it as an excuse, when it is an explanation, or a plea for support.
This careless way of speech only increases the stigma that surrounds mental health. There have been countless times where someone I’ve met has judged others based on their misunderstanding of mental health. Words have such power, and pens are an increasingly common weapon.
With great power comes great responsibility. One of those great powers is technology. Forums on mental health websites and organizations dedicated to awareness (check out Buddy Project, founded by one of our very own Clover Ambassadors!) keep my heart happy.
Spreading awareness is the first step towards de-stigmatization. That’s why I encourage you to continually share your knowledge in order to educate the young, the old, and everyone in between. Having these discussions is the only way to step forward into the future. When you discover the textbook and societal meaning of words and the history that comes with them, it makes knowing when to use them that much easier. Make your pen a weapon used for the defense of good.
By Sydney Tate B., 16