As a therapist, one of my biggest pet peeves is when people use mental health terms both casually and inaccurately. I’m well aware of the irony, however, that I’m also a big advocate of talking openly about mental health in a way that reaches everyone. So it’s very complex but I’ll try my best to explain.
Let’s start with the word itself, “mental health”. It irks me when media talks about mental health as if it’s some kind of diagnosis. It’s not. It’s just an assessment of our mental… health. Truth is we all have mental health just like we have physical health. Sometimes it’s up, sometimes it’s down, but “mental health” is not a word only to be used for someone who is emotionally struggling. That would be like saying “it’s physical health” when someone breaks their leg. No, it’s a broken leg. The word health just means an assessment of functionality. It doesn’t assume dysfunction. In fact, in almost every other instance, “health” is associated positively. Hence the word “healthy”. We do realize that people can be mentally “healthy” right? That’s a thing.
Next on my list is when certain diagnosis become adjectives. And, what’s even more frustrating is that they don’t even make sense. Like “that’s so OCD” First of all, something can’t be OCD and usually people are referring to being overly clean and tidy. The only time cleanliness is associated with OCD is when it is a compulsive act to alleviate the stress of an irrational obsession. Have to vacuum because that you’re going to die if someone walks on your floor with bare feet? Maybe it’s related OCD. Choose to vacuum because you like to keep a generally your clean house? Maybe not so much OCD related. Also this idea that OCD = clean can lead to under diagnosis because someone who isn’t clean may not even consider that they could have OCD. I mean, OCD is also tied to hoarding. It doesn’t matter how clean someone is, what matters is if they are acting compulsive in any way due to an irrational obsessive fear of worry.
Also I hate hearing people say something is “schizophrenic” if it doesn’t match or has alternate meanings. I’ve heard things like “that outfit is so schizophrenic.” Okay, so, here’s a little PSA: schizophrenia has to do with distorted reality often experiencing auditory and/or visual hallucinations. It’s not about stripes coexisting with polka dots. (That’s more Dissociative Identity Disorder if we must use a mental illness describing word.) Unless the outfit is seeing or hearing things that aren’t there, it’s not schizophrenic it’s just mismatched.
Oh there are many more. I could keep going but instead I’ll just say that we definitely should start talking more about mental health. Just hopefully in a way that is more helpful, accurate, and productive.