Finding The Right Words

I wrote yesterday’s post, in part, so I could get to today’s post. Defining what mental illness is and what living with mental illness is like is important because it offers those who don’t have any frame of reference for what it is like to live with a mental illness a better understanding of the struggle faced by those who do. There is another reason it is important though. Defining what mental illness is makes it easier to point out what mental illness isn’t. The fact is, depression and anxiety, along with other mental health diagnoses such as schizophrenic or bipolar, have entered the common, everyday lexicon that is used to describe typical emotional ranges and behaviors.

Words, like crazy or loony are used too loosely, and sometimes in a somewhat negative context, which only furthers confusion surrounding mental health issues. The usage has become so common that I sometimes find myself using those words inaccurately (i.e. ‘this traffic is crazy’ or ‘this weather is nuts’), despite my desire to be a mental health advocate. When I do my negative self-talk usually starts berating me for being so careless in my word selection, but the truth is that language and habits of speech aren’t going to change overnight. The most we can do is hope to be better about it the next time.

What is more concerning, and what needs to stop yesterday, is when mental illness is used as an insult. Particularly, in this highly polarized political world, mental illnesses are used as an insult to describe those of a different political persuasion (i.e. liberalism is a mental illness, people who voted for Trump must be crazy). First, mental illness isn’t something to be ashamed of, and should never be used as a punch line. Second, such uses only further the negative connotation that so many have with these diagnoses. It is harmful. And it needs to stop. And frankly, it is just lazy. The human language is full of potential insults, so if you really want to insult someone, find another way to do so.

The Hilarious World of Depression (which if you haven’t checked it out, I highly recommend) recently did an excellent episode on this, which is part of what got me thinking about the issue and part of why I am writing this post. Hopefully, episodes like that one, and posts like this one, can drive the conversation towards a place where mental health terms aren’t used in such hyperbolic ways. Until then, the best we can hope to do is be better for ourselves, and for others who are struggling with actual diagnosable mental health issues.

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