Weigh your words: don’t use diagnosis labels as a casual joke


Catherine Hooley

UNDER THE SURFACE. Be careful about how you use medical terminology. It is important not to reduce the depth and complexity that diagnoses entail.

Imagine sitting in class before a test: pens are clicking, nerves are running high and suddenly someone blurts, “this class gives me anxiety.” To some people, that sentence means nothing. To others, it sticks with them; it means a lot more. As mental illness becomes less stigmatized, efforts to raise awareness and open conversation have had some adverse effects. Making the diagnoses of depression, anxiety, OCD, bipolar disorder, and other mental illnesses more socially acceptable has led to more conversation, but also more misinformation and misuse of the terms.
With the increase of conversations regarding mental illness between friends and within social media, diagnoses can be considered trendy. Oftentimes, young people take in so much information from social media and social circles that it becomes a prevalent topic in their minds. Being surrounded by a subject easily makes it a topic of relatability among young people.
Humans naturally want to connect with each other. In the same way humans enjoy sharing interests and hobbies as commonalities, mental health is another form of connection. But with connection comes isolation. No one wants to be left out, so when someone hears their friend talk about their experience with anxiety, they want to be able to relate. When someone shares their experience with depression and someone wants to relate, they might think, “that test made me depressed.” The problem with this is that it leads to more misinformation and leaves those dealing with mental illness feeling even more isolated.
The constant misuse of medical terminology creates confusion about what a term actually means. Depression is used as a synonym for sad and someone “acting bipolar” just means their attitude or opinion switches a lot. If people start to take the misuse of a diagnosis as truth, it could end up weakening the meaning of the actual illness.
When someone says, “I’m so OCD,” because they keep their room clean, it makes the real disorder seem like a joke. When the line starts to blur between who is actually struggling and who has a misunderstanding of the definition of the diagnosis, this language becomes harmful.
When talking about mental illness, it is important not to reduce the depth and complexity that these diagnoses entail. It is okay to make jokes about mental health if it opens or lightens up the conversation, but once those jokes morph into misinformation, it crosses a line. The point of talking more about mental health is to make those who struggle feel less isolated, but minimizing those struggles is doing the opposite.
Mental health is a very complicated subject to tackle. If you are questioning if you are allowed to say something, it is better just to find another word and help fight misinformation surrounding mental health.