How many times have you jokingly called someone crazy, bipolar or insane? How many times have you heard your co-worker say she wishes she could be anorexic? How many times have your friends said they’re depressed because some guy didn’t text them back or OCD because they hate a messy room?
We toss those words around as if they mean nothing, as if they’re just another way to describe our current mood. What we don’t realize, though, is that those words do mean something. To some people, those words mean a lifetime of struggle, of not being “normal,” of judgment and pain.
Mental health disorders aren’t a joke. They aren’t something to take lightly or use casually in conversations with our friends. When we do that, we diminish the harsh reality of what it’s like to truly suffer from depression, bulimia or another disorder.
Undermining mental health issues is dangerous in a society that already views them as a sign of failure or a play for attention. People who are diagnosed with these disorders are often stigmatized or misunderstood. When we make jokes about the very real issues they’re struggling with, it discourages them from getting the help they both need and deserve. They feel embarrassed and ashamed and unfortunately, often leave their disorder untreated.
There’s been a strong stand against the misuse of the words “retarded” and “gay” and it’s time we begin treating mental health labels the same way. Whether it’s meant maliciously or not, carelessly calling someone bipolar (or any other term related to diagnosable disorders) is inappropriate and offensive. You never know who is or who knows someone who is struggling.
As someone who has dealt with her own personal mental health issues, I agree that hearing your very serious condition spoken about in jest can be hurtful and awkward. It makes you embarrassed and, more than that, makes you hesitant to speak up when you are having trouble coping. For people dealing with very severe disorders, refusing to get help for fear of being ridiculed can be harmful to their livelihood, if not fatal.
Mental illness is real, even though it’s often more difficult to detect. Let’s stop the ignorant comments and eliminate the stigma surrounding it. It starts with each of us thinking twice before we speak. It starts with refusing to participate in conversations that have a laugh at someone else’s expense. It starts with breaking down the stereotypes about mental health in our society and raising awareness for the issues some of our friends and peers face.