I’ve recently noticed, in people of all ages, an unavoidable sort of ignorance. This particular ignorance is directed towards mental illness and its severity. There have been too many jokes with serious illnesses as the punch line and I seem to be one of the few people not laughing. With mental illness being as important an issue as it has been these past few years, it’s so important to be aware of others’ sensitivity towards it. Whether you are aware of or oblivious to the struggles of those with mental health issues, thinking of others before making comments involving triggering terminology is critical. It’s important to watch what you say, because others won’t always let you know that what you said made them uncomfortable.
Physical and mental illness are more often than not seen as and discussed in different ways. People are accurate in their use of adjectives when describing physical illness, which cannot always be said when describing mental illness. It is a lot more probable that you will hear someone say “That’s just my OCD coming out” when speaking of minor things such as organisation, rather than “Oh that’s just my broken leg acting up again” when they experience minor leg pain. A lack of understanding in the true depth and intensity of mental illness seems to be the most common cause of this sort of behaviour.
These comments can be offensive. Speaking as someone who has struggled with social anxiety their whole life, when I hear people oblivious to what social anxiety really is say “I have such bad anxiety” or “I’m so awkward, I must have social anxiety” I feel offended and belittled. Society throws around mental illness terms so easily that serious diagnoses aren’t seen as important. This creates a stigma with which mental illness can be borderline ridiculed.
Another very common line is “I’d kill myself if that happened to me”. Those who have had someone in their lives commit suicide know the full impact of these words, even when said without bad intentions. There are just so many troubling outcomes to this unknowingly offensive choice of words, and learning to be more conscious is the best solution.
These are battles being fought by people every day and their struggle is often undermined. Being careful with your words can make a big difference, and informing others when they use a mental illness in an offensive manner can spread awareness on the issue. It’s such a simple adjustment that’ll help make those who struggle with mental illness feel validated, which they deserve.
Words: Lindsay Olivieri
Image: Hayley Miller