Mental Health Language

How many times have you heard some variation of the phrase “Looks like someone forgot to take their meds today” or even said it? I certainly know I have heard it plenty of times. Now, this is not meant to attack anyone or say you’re a horrible person if you ever have said something like that. Rather, it is just to get people thinking. Phrases like this, along with others like “I must be bipolar or something, my emotions are all over the place today” are used a little too freely in my opinion. Just as most people are probably aware of refraining from saying things like “that’s so gay” when describing something that makes them upset or frustrated or that they don’t like, they should be aware of the language they use when describing mental illnesses.

Oftentimes, people say things along the lines of what was described above without even thinking twice. I feel this in a way trivializes mental illnesses and people who do indeed take medications for them. As someone who takes medications and sometimes struggles with the thought of it, hearing a joke about someone who is acting silly or different than usual forgetting to take their meds does bother me a little bit. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t dwell on it all the time, but I have thought about it enough to feel like I wanted to write a post about it.

Even in popular culture, there are references to mental illnesses that are not particularly considerate. In a song “Beautiful Girls” by Sean Kingston that came out when I was in high school, he sings “They’ll have me suicidal, suicidal when they say it’s over.” Now, is he actually saying he will want to kill himself when a girl breaks up with him? Probably not. Personally, I think he is using that word in a way to try to convey just how heartbroken he would be, but that probably isn’t the best choice of words to describe his feelings. Someone who actually is suicidal probably wouldn’t appreciate hearing it in a somewhat glamorized fashion in song lyrics. The song got a lot of radio play and probably millions of people sang it without really thinking of the real connotation of those lyrics, showing how this type of language can spread quickly. This is just an example of something that came to my mind first when thinking about this whole topic.

Going back to when I described someone saying their emotions are all over the place and saying they are bipolar, the sentence is oftentimes accompanied by a laugh by them or others laughing with them. This is something I heard someone say at work just recently, and I know she is not aware I do have bipolar. Thus, the point is, you don’t know the story or situation of everyone around you. If you make some kind of joke like that, it may actually be upsetting to someone else who’s affected by bipolar or other disorders. It also shows there is a real misconception among many people about what bipolar actually is. A common perception is of Jekyll and Hyde, where someone who has bipolar is constantly  changing moods on a dime. However, in my case and probably in many other cases, that is not true. As I explained in an earlier post, I had phases of ups and downs. Yes, I do have some mood swings sometimes, maybe more than many people, but the majority of them when I was untreated came in cycles, not rapidly fluctuating throughout the day.

As I said before, this is not meant to criticize anyone who may read this. It is only to bring awareness to the topic. What is the real solution? Simply try to think about the phrasing you use in everyday conversations regarding mental illnesses, and to encourage others to do the same. You never really know how what you say could affect others due to conditions they struggle with. This is not to say that the whole field of mental health has not made great strides, especially recently. In general, it seems like people do accept the legitimacy of mental illnesses more than ever. With people speaking out about mental illnesses more and more and there being better quality care, I am very grateful and happy in general about the state of affairs. However, there still is some work to be done as far as realizing the need to be more sensitive in regards to language used around mental health disorders.

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