More and more people are aware of the unfair negative stigmas associated with mental health disorders or the people who have them. However, you may not realize you’re perpetuating them with the language you use on a day-to-day basis. There are many common words and phrases that have their origins in a stigmatized perception of mental health issues.
Removing these phrases from your vocabulary can be a small but significant step towards removing negative stigmas entirely. Although it can be difficult to change habits, and you may still slip up every now and then when it comes to using a particular turn-of-phrase, being more aware of the words you choose to use can make your loved ones, neighbors, or coworkers who are living with a mental illness feel more comfortable and respected.
“I’m so OCD.”
A highly organized person might describe themselves as “OCD” in a reference to obsessive-compulsive disorder. But a person who is diagnosed with OCD will have no control over their obsession or compulsion, which can sometimes be so intense that it’s debilitating.
“His performance in the game was bipolar.”
You may use “bipolar” to refer to something that has unpredictable highs and lows within a relatively short period, but bipolar disorder can cause dangerous shifts in mood; a person may go from feeling euphoric to suicidal.
“That movie was so sad it made me want to kill myself.”
This phrase might be used after an experience or situation that leaves you feeling depressed, embarrassed, or frustrated. It’s an exaggerated way to express those feelings, and may have even gotten you a few laughs in the past. Ultimately, suicide is one of the leading causes of death in the United States. It’s likely that someone around you has been touched by suicide.
“I’ve been binging that TV series all weekend.”
With the advent of popular TV streaming services, it’s become common to describe watching as many episodes as possible in a sitting as “binging.” However, this word also has close ties to eating disorders and addiction. Minimizing the concept of a “binge” can be harmful.
“His ex-girlfriend is a total psycho.”
You might call someone a psycho to express how malicious or irrational you think they are. A person diagnosed with psychosis can experience hallucinations, delusions, or a total loss of touch with reality. You can imagine how dangerous those symptoms might be. Psychosis is a serious condition.
Realize that your words have power. The choice is yours: you can use words that reinforce the stigmas around mental health diagnoses, or make the choice to decrease stigmas by removing these types of phrases from your lexicon.