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Is the terminology around mental health disorders taken seriously?

Something that annoys me more as I grow older and learn more about the meaning behind the terminology, is how misused it all is in everyday language. Sayings like 'the weather is bi-polar today' or 'That makes me depressed' or even 'My OCD makes me do it' are said fairly frequently yet when I am left to reflect and think on these terms the more degrading and disrespectful they feel. The MHFA cited a study by BUPA from 2018 which states that even though over half of UK adults are more aware of mental health needs and mental health disorders, there are still 49% who use words such as ‘schizophrenic’ and ‘autistic’ to describe themselves and others incorrectly. It was found that whilst Women are more likely to use these terms to refer to themselves, Men were more likely to use them by describing others in a negative and insulting way. Whilst this may seem like a very minor point to make, trivialising terminology in this negative way, can actually have impacts on those who may seek help by delaying them making the decision to see a GP as it creates/enhances the stigma around mental health disorders. It can also have other impacts such as leading to casual diagnosis of ourselves or others which is ineffective and can lead to misdiagnosis in a formal setting due to the human nature of googling symptoms related to a 'casual diagnosis'. Most importantly, misuse of these terms can undermine the actual diagnosis of those with a mental health disorder. If you have ever experienced living with a mental health disorder then you will understand the debilitating effect they can have on our lives, and so someone then flippantly joking about someone being 'schizophrenic or psycho' is really offensive.


So what do the terms actually mean?

"That makes me depressed/ That's so depressing"

Depression is a condition that comes with many symptoms, many of which are physical. It is a condition that people live with daily and fight against daily, it infiltrates all aspects of your life and already holds it's own stigmas in society.

What is better to say?

This makes me feel sad, low, down, unhappy, heartbroken, numb....

There are so many other words to use as an adjective in place of 'depressed/depressing'.

"You're so OCD with your cupboards"

OCD - Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is not a behaviour or way of doing things; it's a combination of obsessive intrusive thoughts derived from anxiety and compulsive behaviour is carried out alongside this.

OCD again is something that people will battle with daily and in severe cases can disrupt life completely.

What can I say instead?

How about - "your cupboards are so neat/tidy/organised".

"My anxiety is acting up"

Anxiety is living with the critical voice in overdrive. It can make us overthink anything and everything we want to do or say, it can make us scared of speaking out incase we cause conflict; it is our brain on irrational thought overdrive, but not always knowing which thoughts are rational or not. Living with anxiety can make us feel like a burden to all those around us.

Anxiety is also not the same as feeling anxious. Everyone will feel anxious at some point in their life, and some more than overs, but anxiety disorders take over your life and thought processes.

What is better to say?

I'm feeling really anxious today.

"Your clothing is so schizophrenic"

Schizophrenia is often confused with multiple personality disorders. Schizophrenia, as with all mental health disorders, are different to each person living with it, but generally it will affect your ways of thinking, disrupt your perspective, and also impact the sense of self. Some forms of Schizophrenia can

include psychotic episodes including delusions.

What can I say instead?

As with using 'depression' as an adjective, there are so many other phrases and words that could be used here - "your clothing is so eclectic/interesting/unique...etc."

"Wow, they're psychotic"

Psychosis can be a sudden and impactful onset of paranoia, euphoria, delusions, restricted emotions and distortions in thinking and perception. It can be so overwhelming and cause people to push all of their support system away.

What to say instead?

Well, to me this is going to be an insult either way, so I would say it's better to say nothing, or check in with the person you were speaking to or about with how they're doing.

"The weather is bipolar today!"

Bipolar can cause so much disruption in the person's life as it can be fairly unpredictable when getting to grips with the condition.

People will often have mania (manic episodes) which can be where they are filled with increased levels energy, emotions, activity and creativity, which are then contrasted by periods of bipolar depression which can be virtually the opposite of the mania - low moods, low energy, feeling hopeless.

Not everyone with Bipolar disorder have both the mania and the depression, but this is what is more commonly diagnosed.

What to say instead?

"isn't the weather unpredictable" or "the weather can't make it's mind up".


Children and these terms:

A study in 2007 looked at how children and adolescents referred to people with mental illness and the stigma that is presented to them. It cites that "the stigmatising attitudes and beliefs held by young people towards mental illness and people with mental illness may deter them from seeking help".

The study, whilst very simplistic and having a small sample size, did find that media like newspapers and TV programmes or the film industry, music, and the people surrounding them (friends and family) were the influence behind how the participants viewed mental health disorders.

What is the relevance of this study and the terminology described above?

The study had 2 main findings:

  1. The participants in this studies understanding of mental health disorders is rather low, which also correlates with the note that recognising mental health disorders was difficult for many.

  2. The negative emotions and terms that the participants related to mental health disorders correlates to the idea that people may be put off seeking help for fear of stigma amongst their peers.

This reinforces the ideas as stated above that even though we may absent mindedly use terms that are said in a lighthearted and throw away manner, they can still create a negative stigma of the mental health disorders they relate too.


The Takeaway from all of this?

No one is perfect, so I do understand that we may not realise the full impact of our words when saying them, however, I am hoping that the takeaway from this post is that we are more mindful of the language we use in our day to day life, maybe we take some time to reflect on what we are saying and what it could mean or how it could impact those around us.

Our words are powerful, and it is our responsibility to use them to the best of our ability.


What are your thoughts around this? What other terms do you know of that could be rephrased?


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