In 2017, it may seem as if work towards reducing mental health stigma has come a long way. Just take World Mental Health Day as an example: the huge amount of people sharing their support may give the allusion that, as a society, we have overcome the stigma surrounding people who suffer with mental illness. But have we really?
Ever had someone who is generally neat tell you that they’re “just a little bit OCD,” or described the weather as being “bipolar” when it’s changed from sun to rain (note: that’s just English weather)? Mental health problems such as OCD, Bipolar, Schizophrenia and Psychosis have become parts of our common vocabulary, all without understanding of the reality of these conditions.
As someone who has recently been diagnosed with OCD, it was a wake-up call to how often we use terms like these in our day-to-day language. I mean I have probably even used the phrase ‘OCD’ out of context myself before when I’ve decided to become tidy, or clicked on those articles which claim to trigger your “inner OCD” by showing images of untidy or imperfect objects. Whilst it may all seem pretty trivial, the language we use to describe these conditions becomes part of the battle which mentally ill people have to fight every day.
associating these kinds of problems with specific trivialities can stand in the way of diagnosis
The main problem with this language issue is that it likens these conditions to a kind of part-time job, when in fact they can often be life-changing, debilitating illnesses. In fact, associating these kinds of problems with specific trivialities can even stand in the way of diagnosis; OCD’s common association with cleanliness and order can mean that people misinterpret many other common symptoms of the disorder, meaning they can put off seeking help.
An interesting way to consider this topic is by comparing it to physical illnesses. For example, would you go about claiming you were “a little bit asthmatic” or “feeling diabetic today” if you hadn’t been diagnosed with the condition? Probably not.
Of course, people using this language in common conversation (like my past self) aren’t doing it in a purposely damaging way. Many people don’t even notice they’re doing it, simply because this use has become so common that we don’t even realise the possible damage we might be doing to those around us.
this use of language can mean that we begin to attach negative associations to people with these illnesses
As other campaigns have pointed out, this use of language can mean that we begin to attach negative associations to people with these illnesses, such as people with OCD being particular and demanding, or people with Bipolar Disorder being unreliable and dramatic; by giving these connotations to people with these conditions, we put in place another barrier for people with mental health problems to feel comfortable and accepted.
So, next time you go to call yourself “OCD,” try to consider the reality of what you’re really experiencing. As many people who know me will tell you, I am in fact not extremely tidy, and can happily do my work without having everything around me lined up perfectly.
The only way we can overcome these incorrect perceptions is through challenging what we’ve been lead to believe, and that will happen one person at a time. Through fighting these stereotypes we can educate everyone on mental health.