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Please Stop Appropriating My Mental Illness

Editor's Note

If you struggle with a body-focused repetitive behavior, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can find resources at The TLC Foundation for Body-Focused Repetitive Behaviors.

If you struggle with self-harm or experience suicidal thoughts, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741741. For a list of ways to cope with self-harm urges, visit this resource.

I am a candidate for my master’s degree in social work at one of the most prestigious universities in the world, and I am terrified.

As someone who is on the clinical track with a concentration in health, mental health and disabilities, my classes are chock full of young professionals hoping to open their own private practices in NYC high-rise apartments. I can picture it now: sitting in their chairs, staring across the shoulder of their client as they tune into the constant hum of the relentless traffic floors below. However, before these professionals graduate, I want them to stop slinging around disorders like its trendy to be depressed, anxious, manic, or mentally unstable. My experience is not a vogue label.

“I get so anxious before tests!”

I remember it vividly — the adult psychopathology class when I began to notice the appropriation of mental health disorders.

The topic of the class was anxiety. Perfect. As someone who was diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) and trichotillomania in middle school, the content of the lecture was my life’s experiences. As the teacher put up the first slide with the words “Anxiety Disorders” written across, I heard a slew of “ooh, thank god! It’s exam week and I get so anxious before tests, what a relevant topic,” and “I bet every graduate student in debt has this disorder!” It was backed up by fits of laughter.

I sat up in my seat. Sure, tests stress people out. That’s normal. And yes, being in debt in your early 20s is absolutely horrifying. However, feeling anxious does not equal having an anxiety disorder. Feeling anxious at times is a good thing; stress keeps us motivated and keeps us moving through life. However, leafing through the DSM-5, you will notice that being diagnosed with an anxiety disorder requires these emotions to interfere with your daily functioning.

Take me, for example. I have lost relationships, friendships, memories, jobs and endless opportunities because of my anxiety that engulfs me, chokes me, drowns me. In middle school, my anxiety was so overwhelming that it caused me to compulsively pull out all of my eyelashes and eyebrows and engage in other self-injurious behaviors. My life has been dictated by my anxiety disorder. Don’t get me wrong, I am all for expressing emotions and talking candidly about mental health. However, I am not all for claiming an anxiety disorder is merely day-to-day low-level stress equivalent to the feeling you get when sitting down to take a test. That is invalidating to the millions of people who have fought their valiant battles with this disorder. It is time for people to think seriously about mental disorders and those who are behind the labels.

Photo by Esther Driehaus on Unsplash

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