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Why We Need to Stop Using Mental Illnesses to Describe Minor Issues


Editor’s note: If you struggle with self-harm, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741. For a list of ways to cope with self-harm urges, click here.

One of the hardest parts of having a mental illness is trying to get other people to understand what that means. The names of many mental health diagnoses have been colloquially adopted to mean regular, everyday preferences. When someone likes their desk neat and clean, they’re “so OCD,” or if they have a short temper or are irritable they are “so bipolar.” If someone is sad one day, they are “depressed,” and if they are bored with something they have “ADHD.” This makes it difficult to talk about the actual symptoms of mental health.

When I tell someone I’ve been staring at pictures of a common self-harm tool for two days, they are unable to understand this. “That makes no sense!” they say because the names of my mental illnesses have been stolen to describe minor issues. When it takes me three hours to process through an obsession, constantly fighting with myself to not complete the compulsion that would bring me so much, yet so fleeting, relief, they are absolutely baffled. “I am OCD too, but this is crazy.”

People have no understanding of the actual ways mental illnesses affect people. The media romanticizes depression, magically cured by Prince Charming, or borderline personality disorder (BPD) raging through the stereotypical “crazy wife.” They shove real struggle into small and easily explained shapes but, when they do this, they lose what it means to have an illness.

There is one diagnostic criterion that most, if not all, mental illnesses share: the above-mentioned symptoms cause significant distress or impairment in several areas of one’s life. The world needs to know this. Mental illness is not cute quirks that are funny to others, but real, excruciating, debilitating symptoms that feel uncontrollable and seem to bury one’s life in difficulties. Mental illness is not cute. Mental illness is not funny. Mental illness needs to stop being treated like a workplace joke and start being treated like an illness.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you struggle with self-harm and you need support right now, call the crisis hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741. For a list of ways to cope with self-harm urges, click here.

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Thinkstock photo via ChesiireCat