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You matter, so do your words

By Kyra Tolley

Staff Writer

Throughout my life, I have heard many people describe others as “so OCD” or as “bipolar,” but that never really made any sense to me. 

I personally know what those terms actually mean, and it has always frustrated me when people would use them as comedic anecdotes or as serious insults. This can impact both the way people experience their own mental health and the way others view those with mental illness.

For myself, I would have reached out for help with my own mental health concerns earlier had I known the true meaning of the words people have been casually throwing around. 

A significant misuse of language surrounding mental health occurs on social media. 

Having conversations about mental health online is a double-edged sword. On one hand it can show more people how to help themselves and those around them when things get tough.

But on the other hand, it has allowed misconceptions to spread rapidly about different conditions, symptoms, and those who experience them. 

In the end, this has made conversations about mental health more difficult for everyday people hoping to seek out help. 

I know I have a tough time discussing my own mental health, even with my best friends and family, but that could be helped by making sure we don’t use diagnoses as insults or as personality quirks. 

If we all choose our words more carefully, people like me might be more willing to have important conversations with those around us and get the resources we need to improve our wellbeing. 

Most of the people I know have TikTok accounts, where information spreads extremely quickly. There has been a trend of using the phrase, “my intrusive thoughts won” as a caption to videos made of people acting silly and doing funny things they wouldn’t usually do.

As great as the entertainment value of these videos may be, they can actually be harmful for those who experience intrusive thoughts due to anxiety disorders like Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.

Intrusive thoughts are typically incredibly distressing to the person who is having them and very rarely do they actually perform the thoughts they have.

This misconception both stigmatizes and delegitimizes the experiences of those with OCD. 

OCD is generally seen by those with little knowledge to be only about cleanliness, when it is actually a multifaceted disorder with an array of symptoms. Many people struggle to find out they have OCD because of the way the disorder has been misconstrued by popular media. 

When I saw the videos about intrusive thoughts trending and getting millions of views, it felt like people were benefiting from making fun of something I and many others have struggled with. 

When people use the phrase “I’m so OCD” in reference to being hygenic, it invalidates the people who experience the difficult symptoms that aren’t related to cleanliness. 

Without knowing the proper symptoms of OCD, people who have intrusive thoughts can be left feeling alone and helpless. Having a concern that you left the stove top on and going to recheck it is something many of us have done. 

What makes an intrusive thought different is if you checked it 10 more times before leaving your house and then getting halfway to your destination just to turn around to check it again. 

This hypothetical situation was not so hypothetical for me a few years ago. 

Bipolar Disorder is another highly stigmatized mental illness.

When people use bipolar as an insult for someone who changes their mind a lot or someone who is seen as moody, not only is it incorrect, it is also incredibly harmful. It contributes to the negative feelings people have about those with mental illness and reignites stereotypes about those with Bipolar Disorder that shouldn’t exist.

If I hadn’t felt so afraid of what it would mean for me to have Bipolar Disorder when I was younger, then maybe I would have accepted the help I would eventually receive much sooner. 

Overall, using proper language when we talk about important topics such as mental health is essential. It helps those living with mental illness as well as their support networks and encourages people to get the treatment they need and deserve. 

Lessening the stigma around mental health is beneficial for everyone and we can all contribute to lessening the stigma by refusing to misuse important terminology in our everyday lives. 

Many people with mental illness everywhere would appreciate it.

I know my younger self would, too. 


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