Ever been so annoyed with someone that you ended up calling them ‘mental’? Jokingly addressed your friends as ‘retarded’ or told them that you were ‘depressed’ when things were not going your way? Very often, we toss around psychological terms quite casually without realizing the implications they carry and in the process, we perpetuate myths about mental illness.
Here are certain terms that have been misused so frequently that they have become normal in our vocabulary and we use them without giving it a second thought.
Most Commonly Misused Psychological Terms
1. “Don’t Behave Psycho”
Psycho is actually short for a psychopath, basically someone afflicted with psychosis and suffering chronically with violent behavior or delusions and hallucinations. Psychosis causes the person to lose touch with reality and the experience can be extremely harrowing. Not a very casual word to throw around, is it?
2.“You Are Such A Cleanliness Freak, I Think You Have OCD”
Obsessive-compulsive disorder is a serious anxiety disorder in which people repeatedly have unwanted thoughts, feelings, ideas or sensations (called obsessions) to a point that it hampers their routine functioning. These obsessions drive them to engage in behaviors that are beyond their control (compulsions). Think about the seriousness of this disorder the next time you address someone with this term.
3.“He’s Completely Schizo”
Schizophrenia is one of the most serious mental illnesses, wherein a person loses the ability to distinguish what is real and what is made-up. It is characterized by disordered thinking and speech, paranoia, serious personality changes and bizarre behavior- definitely not just a flippant term that can be used to describe a character trait!
4.“He Has Some Bipolar Issues, Man”
Bipolar disorder is a psychiatric illness characterized by manic and depressive episodes. In the phase of mania, the person behaves abnormally energetic and enthusiastic. This is followed by bouts of depression, in which there is a persistent feeling of sadness, hopelessness and complete lethargy. So no, just because your friend is moody, it does not mean that he is dealing with bipolar issues.
5.“Dude, I’m Totally Having A Panic Attack Right Now”
A panic attack is a sudden attack of overwhelming fear and anxiety. Usually marked by profuse sweating, accelerated heart rate, palpitations and shivering, it can cause extreme distress as the person experiencing it may even feel like he’s going to die – by no stretch of the imagination is this equivalent to experiencing a mildly stressful everyday life event!
When we use these terms inaccurately in our colloquial language, we add to the stigma around mental illnesses, which are already grossly misunderstood, while also trivializing the problem. For instance, for someone who actually suffers from the illness, hearing the term being used light-heartedly may evoke feelings of shame and embarrassment, hindering them from being open about the disorder and finding support in other people. When we address someone with these terms based on something they choose to do, we give out a message that such behaviors fall in the realm of ‘poor choices’ – something a person suffering from mental illness does not have.
To other people listening to the term, we normalize the illness and downplay its actual seriousness by diluting its technical meaning. Because everyone is aware of the scope and implication of physical illnesses like ‘diabetes’ and ‘cancer’, such terms are almost never used informally to mean something else. Why should we then trivialize a mental illness and treat it any differently?
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February 28, 2018