There is a strange phenomenon going on where mental illnesses are sort of thrown around carelessly. And what is strange is not really that people use them on other people. I mean, hell, people have called other people retarded or gay in derogatory ways for a long time. But what is uniquely odd is that people are beginning to jokingly, or otherwise, label themselves with these illnesses.
I don’t think I ever heard someone say “I’m such a faggot”, but I do hear people say “I’m too OCD for that” practically daily.
Does this mean it is not being used in a disparaging way? Does it not fall in the same class as the things I listed above? Does it mean that we are more open to mental illness so we take it more lightly?
Or does it mean we are more ignorant to it? We have a pretty defined idea (although it is massively skewed as well)of what mentally challenged means in at least a couple forms. We think we have an idea of what homosexuality is (even though we probably don’t) as well. So we use these terms with a fairly accurate precision, and I don’t mean accurate as in authentic, I mean it as in executed the way it is intended to be delivered.
So is the over misuse of mental illness terms because we don’t have a regimented depiction in our minds of what these things mean?
I do find it interesting that you can go on uproxx.com or buzzfeed.com or probably a dozen other sites and find quizzes designed to tell you how OCD or bipolar you are, or they promise to test your OCD with pictures of things out of order or backwards or one thing is wrong (as if any of that has to do with OCD).
Would these same sites offer a test promising to accurately demonstrate how mentally challenged you are, and you might not know it?
I don’t want to conflate mental illness with sexuality (although there is an interesting correlation I might get into at another point) and the difficulties with being mentally challenged. They are all very different and present different difficulties and all need to be met and respected as needed. My point isn’t really involving the specific things here, just the pejorative use of the terminology of these examples I’ve picked.
But I think you get my point, I don’t want to belabor it any longer. Let’s get into the specifics that really bother me.
I rather new term, at least one that was not in fashion when I was in high school is “bipolar”, which is supposed to mean a bitchy girl. When I was in high school we always referred to the girl as “ragging”, I don’t think I need to paint that picture any further. I am curious how this term came into this use and why it has this specific meaning? I guess if a person was known to be moody, go from happy to pissed off or upset a lot, I could see the connection, even if it is extremely shallow and not at all related to the disease.
I have had people come up to me assuming that bipolar means the same thing as moody. Lots of people have tried to convince me that rapid cycling can happen within a day, that it was possible to be depressed and manic in the same day but not the same time (which is called a mixed state). It is not the case. The person these people know might be bipolar, but when they act that way they are being moody, probably for effect. A rapid cycle means up to four cycles of one pole in a year, with one cycle of the opposite pole in between. Bipolar is not a fast acting disease. These mental states take a long time to get into and out of. The idea that it is quickly maneuvered does a dis-service to people who really suffer. It makes the public believe it is fast and temporary, when really the length and seeming permanence of the states is what is most dangerous about it.
Everyone talks about OCD. People tend to believe that if they are anal retentive about any particular thing, then they have OCD. Actually, you are just human. Being organized and particular about things is a human trait with evolutionary beginnings. Having a single tassel skewed sideways on an otherwise immaculately manicured rug bothers EVERYONE, not just people with OCD. Even if you happen to be extremely concerned about organization and cleanliness, you probably aren’t OCD, especially considering that OCD has nothing to do with these things.
Do you have obsessive thoughts that are uncontrollable? Do you seek out rituals to help alleviate the obsessive thinking? Do you have rituals that are done for irrational reasons simply because of obsessions? Is any of this activity dangerous? Then you might be OCD. It isn’t the cutesy version portrayed in “As Good As It Gets”.
I have yet to determine if the increased use of these mental illness terms signals an arching acceptance of these diseases or not. But I do understand that even if that is the case, they are being thrown around so indiscriminately and incorrectly that it is doing damage to the cultural understanding of the diseases at hand.
Maybe one day these terms will fall out of favor, much like calling someone or something gay or retarded. One can only hope.