Using Psychiatric Terminology in Colloquial Conversation Promotes Stigma, Find Thesaurus


Mental Health Stigma

Savannah Gamboa

That roommate who religiously cleaned their side of the room and asked for everyone to keep the suite orderly might have come off as demanding; that does not constitute OCD. The date that forgot their wallet at home and had you pay for the meal and then asked for gas money might not have met your expectations, but that in itself is not indicative of them being a psychopath. And the classmate who speaks in a condescending tone during discussion might be rude; however, that is not sufficient evidence to deem them a narcissist. In fact, in colloquial dialogue, unlicensed individuals are never warranted to diagnose anyone with a mental disorder. 

Using mental disorders as adjectives, synonyms, and metaphors in daily interaction may seem harmless, but you have to ask yourself: on what basis are these disorders being used to describe other people and situations? It may not be intentional to undermine the realities many individuals who live with mental disorders face, but the casual use of mental health terms to negatively describe people or occurrences perpetuates the stigma against mental disorders. 

Over 40 percent of people with mental disorders are living with an untreated mental illness. While there are a variety of reasons that prevent people from gaining access to treatment or reaching out to providers for said treatment, the stigmatization against mental health is still a contributing factor. 

Stigma itself can be broken into two smaller components: public stigma and self-stigma. Public stigma can be presented as negative perceptions of those with mental disorders, emotional agreement with stereotypes in a manner that elicits fear, anger, or disgust against those with a diagnosis, and behavior that enables individuals to avoid or discriminate against those with a mental diagnosis. 

By virtue of public stigmas, patients may begin to self-stigmatize. Self-stigmatizing can look like a negative self-view and the allowance of these negative self-assumptions to influence behaviors that are taken. The suggested panacea is for these individuals to simply receive treatment. However, in studies done within America regarding the effect on the wellbeing of patients with mental disorders before and after treatment, it was found that stigma impedes the well-being of patients despite the improvement of their symptoms and behaviors.

“The prejudice and discrimination of mental illness is as disabling as the illness itself. It undermines people attaining their personal goals and dissuades them from pursuing effective treatments,” reported psychological scientist Patrick W. Corrigin in his journal that investigated the effects of stigma as a barrier to treatment. And in the modern era, the outlets and means in which stigma is continuously employed are as subtle as they are profound.

Through side comments that compare the day’s inconveniences to psychiatric terms, the minimization and criminalization of mental health is able to remain a prominent issue that many struggling with their mental health face. These comments can be presented as unintentionally insensitive comparisons of a disorder to the weather or classifying someone with a given disorder based on a characteristic of theirs that is found to be undesirable. 

Seeing as mental health has historically been held in a negative esteem, the continuation of depicting psychiatric disorders as perilous or explanatory of deviations from a perception of socially acceptable behavior only elicits further misconception regarding mental disorders. The stigmatization of mental health disguised through figurative and flowery language only works to sustain the presumption that those with a psychiatric disorder are at fault for the majority of violence, brutality, and general shortcomings within society. 

Ironically enough, those with a severe psychiatric disorder are reported to be 10 times more likely to be a victim of crime, and only three to five percent of those with disorders are found to engage in violence. Statistically, there is not sufficient evidence that would substantiate that the notion that those with mental illness are more dangerous holds true. Despite this, in a national stigma study, it was found that 60 percent of participants believed those with symptoms aligning with a diagnosis for schizophrenia were more likely to be threatening. 

It is due to statistics that verify the misapprehension of those struggling with mental health that it is increasingly imperative for society to be hypervigilant of how it speaks about psychiatric disorders. Humans are naturally subject to implicit biases, and by continuing to push this narrative of mental illness as a dehumanizing factor of life, even in the form of a joke, we set ourselves up for the potential of subconscious fear and prejudice against the mentally ill. We should not be romanticizing or glorifying mental illness, or any disorder for that matter; but, we should not denigrate those who do have them either. 

This is especially vital within the space of the collegiate system, as more than 25 percent of college students have been diagnosed with a psychiatric disorder. In fact, most students face their first onset with mental health issues or the exacerbation of symptoms they previously struggled with during their college years. Those struggling with their mental health are not a couple of assumably dangerous social outliers; they’re peers, friends, or even partners. That is just one of the reasons why it is essential to be cognizant of how we perceive mental health and how we decide to speak about it.

As a society that is constantly attempting to be a proponent of progression, it is vital that we are conscious of how we perceive those with mental illnesses. “Bipolar” is not a synonym for fluctuation, “panic disorder” is more than the fear that oncomes you missing a test, and mental disorders are not the butt of a joke. Sometimes, it truly is unintentional to make those comparisons between character traits and mental disorders. One solution posed by mental-health advocate, Natash Tracy, is an apparent one, yet one that we sometimes need to be reminded of: “We must consciously be aware of our own thoughts and feelings towards our own mental health and fight to ensure that any unhealthy thoughts are replaced by more reasoned ones.”

Art by Yui Kita for the UC San Diego Guardian