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Mental Health Disorders in Everyday Conversation

The use of mental health diagnoses and mental health “jargon” in everyday conversation has long been an issue, but currently it has risen to new heights- or lows, so to speak! In this writing, we are going to explore why this phenomenon is not only dangerous but is demeaning to those who truly suffer from mental health disorders or have a loved one who does…

If you have heard or used terms such as the following in everyday speech, you have fallen prey to the misuse of mental health diagnoses and/or terminology:

  • “You’re so OCD” referring to a person who is neat and organized.
  • “I was having panic attacks thinking about…” referring to ordinary stressors which we all experience.
  • “He’s/she’s so ADHD” referring to someone who is very active or a bit flighty.
  • “Stop being such a narcissist!” referring to people engaging in a disagreement.
  • “My teacher is a total narcissist” referring to an instructor who insists that students follow guidelines.
  • “My boyfriend/girlfriend just totally gaslit me” referring to a difference of opinion being expressed.
  • “Um……Sorry! My Tourette’s took over for a minute” referring to a temporary lapse in thought.
  • “He’s/she’s so autistic” referring to a person who has difficulty expressing emotions.
  • “I’ve been so Bipolar lately!” referring to normal mood shifts or indecision.
  • “I’m having a total mental breakdown right now” referring to feeling overwhelmed.
  • “What a psycho!” referring to someone who is odd or has a different way of thinking.
  • “That rollercoaster gave me PTSD!” referring to a scary but not traumatizing experience.

The list goes on and on…

Let’s explore some of the reasons why this is so problematic. First, a mental health diagnosis is NOT an adjective. Someone cannot BE “OCD” or “ADHD” or “Bipolar”. People who genuinely have these disorders struggle immensely to maintain a semblance of normalcy in their everyday lives.

Secondly, a person who truly experiences panic attacks lives in a state of almost constant fear and terror. A person with a legitimate anxiety disorder suffers tremendously- often while trying to project an appearance of normalcy- just to be able to do everyday things and participate in events and routines of everyday life which those who do not suffer take for granted, such as driving, maintaining regular attendance at work or school, grocery shopping and socializing.

A person with a narcissistic personality disorder has no conscience or sense of remorse. They use techniques such as gaslighting to dismantle the reality of their victims and deliberately create confusion and chaos for their own pleasure. A person with a narcissistic personality disorder is a deeply, deeply wounded individual who at some point subconsciously vowed to never again be victimized and instead be the person who instead deliberately victimizes others.

A person who has Tourette’s Syndrome is overstimulated by their environment and becomes literally exhausted trying to control facial and/or vocal tics.

A person who has an Autism Spectrum diagnosis does have difficulty expressing emotions, but it goes so much deeper than that. People who are “on the Spectrum” are frequently overstimulated by the environment they are in (sensory overload), are extremely sensitive to changes in light and sound, are sensitive to textures and temperatures, and struggle immensely with social interaction.

A person who has a true bipolar disorder diagnosis (I’m emphasizing “true” because this condition is one of the most widely and erroneously diagnosed) is unable to control shifts in mood or make rational decisions while they are experiencing a manic, hypomanic, depressed, or mixed mood episode.

A person who has a mental health breakdown is a person who is no longer able to function everyday life and needs therapeutic intervention.

A person who has PTSD suffers with intrusive thoughts and memories, nightmares, flashbacks, panic attacks, and dissociation, to name a few symptoms.

The ongoing use of mental health diagnoses and/or terminology causes people to question whether they have a mental health disorder when often they do not. It also minimizes the pain and suffering of those who do struggle with one or more mental health diagnoses. A person who has one or more mental health diagnoses has their symptoms and behaviors minimized, which makes them feel even more uncomfortable and marginalized.

So, what can we do to help stop this current trend from continuing? Being mindful of verbiage is the first step! Some terms have become unacceptable to use in everyday speech, such as those which refer to intellectual capacity or sexual orientation. Let’s be mindful and remove them all! It all begins with you…

-Eileen P. MacNamara, M.S.

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