OPINION: Stop belittling mental health issues in everyday conversation

Graphic by Meghan Joyce

CW: Discussion of mental health issues, depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder

“My final exam grade has me depressed.”

“This movie is seriously giving me anxiety right now.”

“My mom is so bipolar. I can’t stand her.”

It’s likely that you’ve heard something similar to one of the phrases above before. It could have been before a test someone was stressed out about, during a horror film, or at an awkward family gathering.

In today’s environment, medical vocabulary often pops up into everyday conversations as a placeholder for more in-depth descriptions of our feelings. Using serious mental illnesses as adjectives should serve as a sign that we need to improve our vocabularies and reconsider how we feel.

I should clarify: Most people experience anxiety or encounter a temperamental relative at some point in their lives. But there’s a difference between having situational anxiety and having an anxiety disorder, and there’s a difference between having a few mood swings and having bipolar disorder.

Situational anxiety is part of life. One might feel anxious before a job interview or before a wedding. Normally, this anxiety fades away after the event.

For people with anxiety disorders, however, the anxiety does not simply leave.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, “people with generalized anxiety disorder display excessive anxiety or worry, most days for at least 6 months, about a number of things such as personal health, work, social interactions, and everyday routine life circumstance.”

Forty million adults in the United States suffer from some sort of anxiety disorder, and 43.8 million adults in the United States experience anxiety or a mental illness of some kind every year. To equate the symptoms they experience on a daily basis to a moderate level of nervousness experienced before a test trivializes a serious medical issue that greatly complicates and negatively impacts the lives of many people across the country.

Therapy and psychiatric care can be extremely expensive. The cost of having your feelings validated and getting an official diagnosis is often too high for many low-income people to pay for.

Twenty-one percent of people report an inability to access needed mental health care for themselves or a family member, and 13 percent of that group are unable to access mental health care due to its costs. From this inaccessibility, many people are forced to endure the effects of their disorders without treatment.

It should be noted that this could be one factor that contributes to the hefty use of medical terminology in everyday life. Without access to affordable care, people might rush to label small bouts of anxiousness as persistent anxiety.

That’s why it’s necessary to analyze our emotions before we label them as a mental health issue. We must determine if our feelings of anxiousness are persistent, if they happen more days than not, if they result in physical symptoms, and if they are difficult to control.

It’s certainly possible for someone to self-diagnose an anxiety disorder, but before one runs around telling people they have anxiety, it’s important to dedicate some time to monitor individual symptoms.

This is also true when talking about other people.

We can’t call our neighbors ‘bipolar’ simply because the type of music they blast frequently changes. It’s not anyone’s place to diagnose someone based solely on their external behavior. To do so perpetuates the stigma that mental conditions are something to be ashamed of and contributes to a negative perception of the mentally ill.

It isn’t enough to stop trivializing mental illness with our word choices.

We must ensure that mental illness ceases to be something disgraceful. Mental illness shouldn’t be an affliction that one has to research on one’s own. Our institutions need to educate young people about mental illness and offer resources in a non-threatening environment.

If the 5C community wants to ensure adequate mental health to all students, they need to take greater steps beyond the programs already in place to improve awareness and give students access to treatment paths.

Additionally, we need to tread carefully when describing our own emotions.

Instead of claiming you have a serious mental health issue, describe the root of your stress and explain how it affects you. It’s better to complain about specific things people do, rather than call them ‘bipolar’ or ‘insane.’

Instead of simplifying mental conditions, expand upon your emotions. Instead of dismissing mental illness, educate yourself and those around you.

Eamon Morris PZ ’22 is from Orange, CA. He tried giving up coffee this week and slept for three days.

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