We must take mental illness more seriously to increase understanding

Nikitha Seri, Assistant Arts&Style Editor

“I have OCD.” “I’m depressed.” “You’re so bipolar.” “KMS.”

These phrases are often used freely and without regard to their context or origin. Many people joke about or inaccurately label behaviors and feelings as mental illnesses, which trivializes the struggles of people who truly suffer from them, desensitizes people to the seriousness of mental illness and demonstrates society’s lack of understanding about the group of disorders.

“I’ve heard people say ‘I’m so depressed’ for really minor things, like having too much homework or not getting what they wanted at lunch,” senior Aurie Walker said.

Using serious words for minor difficulties or disappointments belittles real mental illness by associating trivial troubles with real conditions that affect numerous people in various ways.

“I definitely do think these phrases are unwarranted, but unfortunately they’ve made themselves common within teenage slang,” sophomore Julie Ablimit said. “I would say people should be much more sensitive to the meaning of references to serious mental illnesses.”

In order to prevent the misuse of such words, we need to start taking mental illnesses more seriously. People often don’t treat them as actual struggles, and this misunderstanding has led to the inappropriate use of words relating to mental illness.

Mental illness can be as serious as or even more serious than a medical illness, but this is not always realized. For example, cancer is almost universally acknowledged as a severe condition that is no laughing matter. However, the same consideration is not given to mental illness. Although it cannot always be seen, mental illness can be very dangerous and hard to deal with. The National Alliance on Mental Illness reports that 90 percent of the more than 41,000 people that die by suicide each year experienced mental illness. Thoughts caused by mental illness can be frustrating and terrible, especially when many use the illness to label feelings and behaviors that are nowhere near as serious or troubling as the actual condition. Attention or credibility should not be taken away from medical illnesses, but rather, society should become more aware and understanding of those affected by mental illness, which includes an equally dangerous group of conditions.

In Jennifer Niven’s note at the end of her bestselling young adult novel “All the Bright Places,” she wrote about experiencing the deaths of two people close to her, her father and a close friend, within 14 months of each other. Her father passed away from cancer, but her friend died by suicide. Niven noted that there was an outpouring of sadness and condolences after her father’s death, but that people responded very differently after her friend’s suicide. This real-life example of the unfortunate stigmas surrounding suicide and mental illness highlights the misunderstanding that is prevalent in society, as well as the need for change .

“I think [we] should be more conscious of the fact that there are people everywhere we go suffering from a mental illness,” Walker said. “Most of the time you will have no idea because it’s not something that a lot of people wear on their sleeve. People don’t go around just telling [others] that they have clinical depression and anxiety.”

Charlotte Perkins Gilman, a 19th and 20th century advocate for social reform, wrote “The Yellow Wallpaper”, a short story about a young woman in poor mental health who is taken to a summer house to get rest and air to cure her “temporary nervous depression.” However, this “rest cure,” widely prescribed because doctors did not consider mental illness to be a legitimate problem, only exacerbated her condition.

Gilman later explained in “The Forerunner” in 1913 that her goal in writing the story was to urge physicians to alter their treatment of mental illness and take the condition more seriously. She said that the short story was based on her actual experiences. We should realize that mental illness is more serious than we often make it out to be, and that those affected can find these terms isolating and offensive.

“How we refer to someone can have a significant impact on the school culture and their psychological well-being,” school psychologist Felina Williams said. “So often students with mental illness feel ostracized, alone and that no one understands or can relate.”

We should keep in mind how we are using and should use terms relating to mental illness.

“You never know who is struggling around you,” junior Ankith Vadicherla said. “Misusing those words can make their situations feel a lot worse.”