Think before you speak


Chris Caswell

Mental illness is often misunderstood in society, so in recent years, several groups across the country and the world have tried bringing them to national attention. Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), schizophrenia and depression are just three of the many mental illnesses that are often misunderstood. 

First, I want to emphasize that these disorders aren’t just in a person’s head; they can’t just “snap out of it.” It’s important that people keep this in mind, but I think real progress has been made in treating mental illness like a real disease, not just blaming someone who suffers from one of these illnesses.

However, I think there are still a lot of misconceptions about mental illnesses that many people, especially those who are not close to someone who suffers from a mental illness (and I do not pretend to be an expert on the subject), do not understand. One being that people try to claim a mental illness as a source of pride.

Many people wrongly claim these diseases — specifically OCD — as a badge of honor. People who are not really affected by any mental illness for some reason think saying they’re “so OCD,” for example, makes them unique or special.

In this example, no, you’re not “OCD,” you just like your things in a certain way.

The same goes for other mental illnesses such as depression or insomnia. I’m sorry if you’re feeling sad, but once again, that’s not the same thing as being depressed. And just because you can’t sleep, that does not make you an insomniac.

For people who suffer from and/or are close to someone who suffers from a mental illness, it can be insulting and frustrating to hear someone appropriate one as a positive attribute for the sake of portraying themselves as unique. It makes light of a serious illness and makes it sound like a good thing — like the illness isn’t a bad thing at all and like OCD is just a synonym for organized.

Another fallacy of mental illnesses is that they define the person who suffers from it. Labels can be important, because they describe objects and people, as well as provide a means of treatment. But labels, when it comes to mental illness, can also be a bad thing.

Mental illness should not define or limit one’s perception of someone who suffers from a mental illness. In many cases, a label does just that.

If you know that someone suffers from bipolar disorder, that tends to be the most important thing you think about that person, though understanding that person and what they face is much more complicated and intricate than those two words.

Mental illnesses are similar to physical illnesses in many ways, but they do differ, too. Every single case is different. Two people who are diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder will have very different experiences and face very different obstacles.

I’m sure there are exceptions, but with physical diseases, if two people suffer from the same illness, they will receive similar treatment. With mental illnesses, labels can be counter-productive as an over-simplification of people’s identity and experiences.