General Health · Get Well

Mental Illness Misconceptions

We all have those moments when we toss around a cliché phrase to keep the conversational ball rolling. Usually, despite its lack of originality, the phrase seems to serve its purpose. Doing so is perfectly normal; it’s a regular part of modern human nature. Sometimes, to identify with those around you, it’s easier to use an oftentimes well-received phrase that will get your point across. However, some of these cliché phrases are not so politically correct. Unfortunately, words used in these sayings can be hurtful, and their use can quite possibly undermine an entire population.

There are far too many expressions that people will say in order to make fun of themselves in a moment of weakness, or perhaps to highlight another person dealing with a similar situation. Often, they inadvertently target a minority population and say things based on misinformation. Many mental ailments are misinterpreted or thought of inaccurately because of these misleading cliché phrases. Here are a few examples that might help you re-evaluate your use of phrases that may misrepresent someone’s daily struggle:

“I have serious OCD; I always need everything to be in its place.”

A lot of the time, people will refer to their tendency toward cleanliness or their intolerance of germs as their own form of OCD, or obsessive-compulsive disorder. You may feel a need to keep your closet color-organized or have to wash your hands 10 times a day, but you don’t have OCD simply because of these personality quirks. People struggling with OCD deal with much more than the stress that comes from something like an untidy room. They feel a deep, anxiety-provoking need to perform rituals based on their obsessive thoughts. These thoughts can range anywhere from fear of catching an illness to the idea that their whole family is going to die. These thoughts dominate their mind until they can find brief relief in the act of performing a ritual, such as washing their hands 20 times in a row or turning every light in their home on and off. It’s a tough life for them and each day brims with severe inner-conflict. If this doesn’t describe you, you do not have “serious OCD.”

“Every time I talk to her, she’s always in a different mood. She’s so bipolar.”

A person who is moody or “hot and cold,” as some would say, does not necessarily have the characteristics of bipolar disorder, or manic-depressive illness. Yes, manic-depressives do deal with mood changes, but they come in the form of episodes that last at least a week. This means extreme changes in mental state ranging from manic overexcitement to depressive hopelessness, hence its name. Their manic stages could make them extremely happy or extremely angry, while their depressive stages can often bring them deep into a mental black hole. Manic depression also comes with distressing changes in energy, sleep, and other aspects of behavior, making life very difficult for its sufferers and the people around them. 

“I can’t concentrate right now—I’m so ADD.”

This is certainly one of those phrases that people overuse. ADD, or medically termed ADHD, attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, is a disorder that remains present in the daily lives of its sufferers. People with ADHD deal with some combination of severe inattention, distractibility, and impulsivity, depending on which kind of ADHD they struggle with. It’s a complex disorder and requires the expertise of a highly-trained professional in order to diagnose. Those with ADHD tend to face many obstacles in their school, family, social, and professional lives due to their lack of self-control and self-discipline.

“You’re depressed? Why don’t you just do this to get yourself out of it?”

This is not so much a cliché phrase as it is a common misconception. Many people don’t understand the underlying truths of depression, otherwise known as major depressive disorder. A person who is diagnosed with depression is in a state that is much more complex than a period of the “blues.” It is very difficult to just someone to get out of a depression if he or she is truly in one. It is a mood disorder and has a physiological presence, meaning that you can see the effects of depression in a brain scan. It chemically affects its sufferers in a way that makes them feel that life is not worth living. When a person is depressed, it’s physically hard for them to get out of bed in the morning and face the day. It usually requires long-term treatment and interventions ranging from psychotherapy to medication. Depression can be very serious, so it’s important to be careful about how you approach someone suffering from it.

By Melissa Espinal