Stop using mental illness as an adjective

Sarah Gill | Broadcast Reporter

“This weather is so bipolar.” “Gosh this traffic is giving me PTSD.” “Yeah, she’s OCD about that.” “That movie was depressing.”

We are all guilty of using phrases like these in our everyday language. I say them. You say them. We all toss mental illnesses around like figures of speech, but they are far more than that. Using mental illness terms in this way is insensitive and inaccurate. We need to remember what the words truly mean and how many people they affect.

As September comes to an end, so does National Suicide Awareness Month. According to the CDC, suicide rates have increased more than 30% in over half of states since 1999 and nearly 45,000 people lost their life to suicide in the year of 2016 alone.

Suicide is a real problem. The rates are increasing, and most suicides are caused by untreated mental illness.

Why are mental illnesses left untreated? People are either afraid to speak up or they don’t even realize they have a mental illness. For example, either you know you have an anxiety disorder and you’re too scared to admit it, or you aren’t aware that the symptoms you’re experiencing such as panic attacks aren’t normal. It is not normal to worry so much that you have trouble breathing.

The way mental illnesses have integrated into our common language puts them in a light that causes us overlook their symptoms. We are all prone to over-exaggerate and dramatize a situation. However, when we do this, it dilutes the gravity of symptoms and mental illnesses you are claiming to experience.

For example, you may say, “I’m so stressed I feel like I’m going to have an anxiety attack.” You may be completely stressed out, but that claim is a complete fabrication of your stress level. Unless you are indeed experiencing the symptoms of an anxiety attack such as having shortness of breath, hot flashes and dizziness, do not claim or joke around about having one. It is a serious issue.

Another familiar example: “I’m gonna kill myself if I do bad on this test.” Again, unless you truly feel suicidal, do not talk about killing yourself. When you joke around about it, the symptom of wanting to end your life becomes casual in conversation. The issue of suicide should never be casual.

The unfortunate issue here is that because we nonchalantly mention the symptoms of mental illness, it clouds the picture of when someone is actually experiencing those symptoms. Maybe your best friend is telling you word for word that they have a problem, but you’re just so used to exaggeration that you don’t believe they’re telling the truth.

Most people are afraid to come forward with their mental illness because of the way society views them. They are typically seen as an annoyance. Mental health is taboo and no one wants to address it. But according to World Health Organization, around 450 million people are suffering. Let’s bring this conversation to light.

There is a huge stigma around someone who has a mental illness. No one likes to admit they have a problem and few people treat the mentally ill with compassion. They are viewed as helpless and attention seeking. According to NAMI, 56.7% of adults in the US did not receive treatment for their mental illness in 2018.

The mentally ill NEED your help. They are desperate to find someone to tell them they are worthy, loved and have a place on this planet.

We should view a mental illness in the same light we view any other physical illness. While a mental illness affects your brain, the flu affects your respiratory system. Left untreated, both can be life threatening.

One in four people have a mental disorder. Just think: how many people do you live with? How many people are in your family? How many people do you have class with? How many people have you seen today? Think about your loved ones.

You never know who you are talking to or who can hear you. What if when you’re complaining about the changing weather pattern to your friend, calling it “bipolar,” your friend actually has bipolar disorder – you just don’t know it yet. What if they were about to finally open up to you and be honest, but that one careless comment about their disorder pushed them away?

When we use mental illnesses as adjectives, we are undermining someone’s reality. Depression, for instance, is a very real illness. You can’t just snap out of it and simply stop being sad. So when you say, “I’m depressed, I have to get up so early tomorrow morning,” you are diluting the meaning of the word “depressed.” Someone who’s mother passed away might say they’re depressed. Do you think they’re experiencing the same level of sadness?

The LAST thing we want is for people with a mental illness to feel like we don’t care about them. But when we use their illness as a figure of speech, this gives the word a negative connotation which makes them feel negatively about themself. The mentally ill should never feel isolated or like something is wrong with them. It is imperative for a mentally ill person to feel like they have a friend to lean on and confide in.

You need to help them get help. Seeing a counselor is not something to be ashamed of. The Baylor Counseling Center is available for walk-in appointments from 9am to 4pm Monday through Friday.

Many people also get prescribed medicine to treat their mental illness. Just like you treat allergies, you’ve got to treat your mental health too. It can’t be ignored!

Let’s pull out a thesaurus and find different words to use as adjectives. Words that won’t hurt someone.

Mental illnesses are not adjectives.