The Sunday Natter: why we need to stop using mental illness as adjectives

Posted on 4 min read

I’m strongly passionate about mental health. Whether passionate is the right word to use for a genesis that has the ability to impact on living a happy, healthy life I’m not entirely sure but what I do know is I always tread carefully on the subject that is personally important to me and many others around me. There’s already a negative and discriminative stigma surrounding mental health that has a need to be understood to a serious extent so when I hear the classification of an illness that tears apart every inch of your well being used so frivolously, casually and jokey in everyday conversation, I can’t help but feel disappointed, victimised, angry and truthfully, hurt.

We’re all guilty of it. Hey, I’m the first to admit in the past I’ve more than likely carelessly passed a “I’m so depressed” comment in my juvenile lifetime but as I’ve grown older, as I’ve experienced the gravity of mental illness, become aware of the effects and fallen into a society that unfortunately formulates a psychological disorder as the latest trend and uses terms of mental health as a prevalent in cultural dialogue, I’ve identified the significance in the way we choose our words and I’ve taken action in my mistakes.


“She/he went crazy, they’re so bipolar” – there’s a difference between a switch of moods due to a change in decision or a reasonable argument and a rapid, intense, manic depressive state that takes you from high to low in various overwhelming episodes.


“I love to stay clean, I’m so OCD” – you can’t be OCD, you have OCD and even then, being particular about how you make your bed or vacuum the carpets is in no way comparable to obsessive and compulsive behaviours that eat away at your thoughts, your imagination and impulses.


“Gosh, you nearly gave me a panic attack” – the definition of a panic attack: a sudden overwhelming feeling of acute and disabling anxiety. Possibly the most distressing encounter that can easily turn into a debilitating condition. A startled moment that passes by with a little heart flutter and a giggle does not compensate to the control anxiety can have on your life.


“My favourite TV show ended, I’m so depressed” – if you aren’t educated on one of the most common mental health conditions then let me put this straight; depression is a mood disorder that causes a persistent feeling of deep sadness, loss of interest and affected behaviour. It can leave you paralysingly numb, tired and hopeless – the complete opposite to a brief brisk of sadness that will so easily vanish once you distract yourself.

“She looks anorexic!” – you can’t designate an appearance with an eating disorder. It’s just not credible. Anorexia is an awful disease and nothing to compel to what you consider the norm. That’s ignorant, ridiculing and completely off limits.


“OMG I had so much to drink last night, I’m such an alcoholic” – no, no you’re not and if you were, I’m sure you’d be quick to realise it’s not something to speak about so lightly. Please don’t kid and dismiss addiction as your binge drinking antics that may have gotten a tad out of hand on a Friday night.


I’m not the politically correct police, there isn’t any law on how you should express your vocabulary and I’m sorry if I do sound so blunt but damn, I am totally fed up of seeing these frivolous ‘I’m glad you’re my friend, we’re both psycho, a slight alcoholic, and have the same mental disorder’ memes roam the internet. Not only is it my pet peeve but ultimately, it can be dangerous. When we use mental illness to describe an individual’s general feelings, personality and a behavioural mood that has no relevance to the actual illness, it only contributes to the stigma, trivialises and takes away the severity of it. These are not traits, an attribute nor an adjective, these are diseases and disorders of the brain. Mental illness is not a source of jest, it’s inappropriate to deliver their clarity in an oversimplified, stereotypical way. To talk about it so insensitively is to mock and undermine the seriousness of these struggles so many people face. To deal with the issue is one thing, to hear rendering of our illness meaninglessly placed into a normal communicative manner as you come to terms with your issues as well as the myths and misunderstandings surrounding it only adds to the difficulty and hesitance of genuine, clinical diagnoses being spoke about and heard. In the long run, it can prevent someone getting the help they so rightly deserve.


I’m not trying to belittle the complex and diverse strains of mental illness, my point is if they’re being used as a detrimental figure of speech opposed to an expressive contribution to mental health campaigning then that’s morally wrong. Mental illnesses are not set in stone, there are varying magnitudes that need to be explored, not expressed as a certain, one dimensional phrase. To throw words around like that, you’re blocking the visibility to the world of mental health that is so contingent to a person’s individual battles. What’s standard for you, is someone else’s harsh reality and that can be greatly offensive. Why are we still carelessly egging on the torment of mental illness when we wouldn’t do the same to physical illness?


All I’m saying is, please think carefully the next time you speak out. I’m certain plenty fail to realise or even acknowledge the fact they’re almost promoting oppression whilst upsetting people in the process. Once you start to develop an empathy for mental illness, you’ll get a better idea of the need for a change in conception.

What are your thoughts? Have you fallen victim to this type of impetuosity?

Bridie x