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Please stop using terms like “OCD” or “depression” if you don’t have a mental illness

Sep. 7, 2017
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“Oh no, I think my OCD is kicking in…”

“I have so much anxiety right now, you can’t even imagine…”

“She was crying at the movie, so she might be depressed…”

These are phrases that you’ve probably seen, heard or said once or maybe several times in your life. Many believe that there’s nothing wrong with saying these: after all, they’re just words used to describe how you feel, right?  

Not quite. The words in these phrases such as “OCD”, “anxiety” and “depressed” all have one thing in common: they are terms associated with mental illnesses. And if you’re a person who does not suffer from a mental disorder, but you use these words to express yourself, then there is something wrong.

With social media becoming part of our lives, and with platforms like Tumblr promoting this kind of casually ableist language, mental health has been reduced to a commodity or rhetorical device. This misuse of language has trivialized the pain and suffering of having a mental disorder, and with terms such as “psycho” and “anorexic” being used frequently to describe someone who woke up cranky or ordered a salad for lunch, mental disorders have turned into adjectives that people can simply pick up and use.  

To better understand the gravity of trivializing mental health, try to imagine a world where we did that to physical ailments: 

“Whew, I’m out of breath. I think my asthma is kicking in!”

“Wow, she looks cancerous.”

“That’s so cool he got a broken knee!”

“I’m tearing up. I might have myopia or something.”

“My head hurts—it’s the blood pressure, I can tell.”

Pretty cringe-worthy, right?

People who suffer from mental illnesses feel the same, too—and they have to listen to this kind of belittlement all the time, especially in a society where people have the tendency to over-exaggerate their expressions. The truth is that mental illness has a lot in common with physical illness, and it needs to be taken just as seriously. 

One of the key culprits in the ongoing trivialization of mental illness is perhaps the notorious blogging platform Tumblr. I’ve had a Tumblr for years, and scrolling through my dashboard, I see a lot of posts that insist on portraying sadness as beautiful, lean heavily on self-deprecation (e.g. girls calling themselves “fat” or “ugly”), or include triggering content. This kind of content trivializes mental illness—or, worse, promotes it as “cool” and “interesting”. As a result, those who genuinely suffer from or need treatment for mental illness may be overlooked or even penalized for not being able to just “get over it”—as if it were a costume one could doff and don at will. And it doesn’t stop at Tumblr: posts like these pop up on Instagram all the time.

The problem extends to celebrity culture, as well. In the world of reality TV, exaggeration is the name of the game—and that includes toying around with mental disorders. Particular examples include the Kardashian sisters’ tendency to explain away their crying jags as “anxiety” or even claim, apropos of nothing, that they’re having a “panic attack”. 

If you’ve ever felt down, cried over a book, or felt nervous to talk to someone, that does not mean you have a mental disorder. These are feelings everyone experiences, feelings that are completely different from how an actual sufferer feels. Mental suffering is not something to aspire to have or show off like a badge: pain is not pretty, physically nor mentally. So the next time you’re sobbing over a breakup or feel the need to wash your hands because you touched dirt, don’t immediately believe that you suffer from anxiety or OCD. 

Self-diagnosing mental illness is hard to do with any real accuracy, and mental illnesses are a very sensitive manner—so you shouldn’t just throw words like “bipolar”, “retarded” or “panic attack” like confetti. Saying you’re bipolar because you’re happy one day and then sad the next is like saying you have tachycardia because you have a fast heartbeat after walking. Take this issue seriously, do some research on mental disorders and its symptoms before carelessly waving around a label, and if you think you really do need help then please seek treatment. After all, there’s nothing more cool or glamorous than taking care of yourself and doing what you need to do in order to stay happy, healthy and positive!