Too often, Elon University students use mental illness terminology flippantly in casual conversations; speaking phrases such as “Sorry, I’m so OCD” or “Oh, I’m so depressed.”
Mental illness is an issue that affects many students on Elon’s campus. While not everyone suffers from such an illness, mental health affects us all. It deserves to be taken seriously and respected as a real problem students are consistently facing.
For students who actually suffer from these mental illnesses, using this terminology is acceptable. But, if they do not suffer from these illnesses, using these words trivializes the issue of mental health and normalizes it in a way that could be harmful to those who actually suffer from mental illnesses.
When students use these illnesses as adjectives to describe everyday feelings or situations, they lessen the severity of these words and minimize the seriousness of these illnesses. This contributes to the general culture of not taking mental illnesses seriously.
Procrastinating on an assignment is not the same thing as suffering from ADHD. Having a bad day is not the same thing as having depression.
These illnesses can seriously impact a student’s life. Someone suffering from depression may not feel the motivation to go to class. A student with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder may find it difficult to live with a roommate or even go about their daily life.
Using terms such as these could also trigger harmful memories for other students. For example, saying something “makes me want to kill myself” can bring up suicidal thoughts or feelings to those who hear it. It is disrespectful to those dealing with suicidal thoughts or those with friends or family members who have committed suicide to use that word as if it means nothing.
We all need to be conscious of the power behind our word choices. What may seem like an innocent sentence can actually contribute to the larger stigmatization of mental illness. Using these terms as adjectives contributes to the concept that mental illnesses are just in a person’s head or not something to be taken seriously.
To combat the negative stigma of mental illness and make the voices of students with mental illnesses heard on Elon’s campus, all students should put more thought into what they say and how they say it. Something as simple as a change in word choice can be vital in changing this negative outlook on this issue.
Instead of using these words to describe yourselves, educate yourself on mental illness. Learn about the warning signs of suicide and the symptoms of depression or anxiety. Attend events and join organizations that work to educate students on the seriousness of mental illness. Be an ally to those who are suffering — this is a step towards dismantling negative stigmas.