For most of my life, I've suffered from pretty severe anxiety. When I was little, I just thought I was nauseous all the time. As a teenager, I exercised for hours a day to get the nervousness to pass. As an adult, I do yoga and practice my breathing techniques to try to find the calm in the middle of my storm.
For most of my life, I've been led to believe by my family, the media and my friends that mental disorders are to be feared. If something is wrong with your head, you are deemed "crazy," and should be institutionalized.
No one has ever bothered to say to me, “Hannah, brains get sick, just like you get sick. You aren't broken just because you suffer from mental illness.” I had to figure that out on my own, as I came to terms with my mental issues. Honestly, I am still coming to terms with them.
One of the reasons mental diseases are so scary to people is because of our daily language regarding them. We throw around phrases all day that, on the surface, seem harmless. In reality, they do a dangerous job of downplaying and trivializing a real struggle.
Mental disorders are made to be punchlines, and are often used to describe undesirable personality traits. Here are six common phrases we should stop saying, so we can hopefully end the stigma surrounding mental illness:
1. "I'm so OCD."
This one is the first on my list because obsessive-compulsive disorder is close to my heart. My best friend and her sister -- who I also love very much -- suffer from crippling OCD.
Before my friend received help for her illness, she struggled to leave the house, due to the overwhelming number of rituals she needed to complete to get her anxiety to subside.
2. "You're acting really bipolar."
There is an old episode of a doctor drama TV show that depicts a bipolar patient as a crazy, murderous maniac who can't control her actions and goes on a rampage every time her disorder acts up.
This was my first example of bipolar disorder. This example -- and the fact that people trivialize mere mood swings for actual mental disorders -- are so harmful to people who actually suffer from them.
It leaves them clueless about how their days will turn out. They struggle to grasp how they'll feel, for fear of having a bad day.
3. "I've been really depressed lately."
People become sad all the time. Girlfriends can break up with you, you can get a flat tire on the way to an interview and people can be mean to you. All of these things suck, and they're all valid reasons to be sad.
Depression is a whole other game. Depression sufferers struggle to find the will to live, wake up and be productive every day. The condition can be crippling. Anyone who mistakes this for sadness is grossly underestimating the toll depression can take on a human.
4. "You're acting crazy right now."
OK, this one seems so simple, it could never be harmless. Right? No.
The term "crazy" is offensive. It turns mental disorders into punchlines. It trivializes the very nature of struggling with a mental disorder. So, I say to you, stop it. Stop with the "crazy."
5. "That's going to give me a panic attack."
Alright kids, panic attacks are my life right now. They happen almost every day. They stop my breathing, make my head spin so fast I could faint and make me fear for my life. I get that everyone struggles with stress once in a while.
But to compare anxious feelings to panic attacks is reckless. If this hadn't been said around me growing up, I probably would have dealt with my anxiety years ago. I would not be in such bad shape mentally as I am today.
6. "You're acting like a crackhead."
Ever say this to a friend when he or she seems erratic? Cut that sh*t out, man.
Addiction is a serious struggle that affects a person mentally and physically. It is life-threatening and overwhelming to the person who is suffering. Erratic personalities can't even compare.
Mental illness is a very big deal for a lot of Americans. Approximately one in five adults in the US experiences mental illness in a given year. There is still a huge stigma surrounding mental illness, but if we all do our part to erase that, we can make a huge difference together.
Be more aware of what comes out of your mouth. Even if you don't mean to, stop trivializing other people's suffering.
If you are struggling, get help. You are never alone, and it can get easier.