For the past 8 years of my life, I have taken on the role of being a mental health advocate. When I first started getting treated for my eating disorder and anxiety issues as a young teenager, my eyes were opened to a new world. Suddenly, I was sensitive to the jokes my peers were making about mental health. As much as I tried, I couldn’t turn it off. College has brought many blessings and truly wonderful friends and classmates; however, the jokes have made their way to my college campus as well as those around the nation. I speak for many of us with our own mental health issues when I say that these jokes need to stop.
To be clear, I am not pointing fingers. I am not blaming anyone or accusing any person for doing the wrong thing. Honestly, I am writing out of love and fellowship, as I want us all to work together to create an environment that does not make light of serious problems. Mental illnesses are just as real as a physical illness. Just as it is wrong to make fun of a serious physical problem, it is also wrong to make a joke at the expense of someone experiencing emotional pain. I hope this article makes my message clear.
- “I am/she is so anorexic” — commonly used when one skips lunch or goes on a diet. Why it’s offensive: anorexia has the highest mortality rate out of any mental illness. It is not a laughing matter, and making light of it reduces the likelihood that loved ones will see anorexia nervosa as a serious problem.
- “I’m going to kill myself” — a phrase often used when one messes up or is very upset. Why its’s offensive: people of all ages attempt or complete suicide every day. If you are serious about having thoughts of hurting yourself, you should seek help immediately. If you aren’t, please consider using another phrase to express your frustration or emotions.
- “I had a panic attack when… ” often used when someone felt nervous about an event or activity. Why it’s offensive: panic disorders are debilitating mental health problems that mimic heart attacks and legitimately make the sufferer feel like he or she is dying. It is normal to have anxiety, and it is important to share your feelings with friends. However, if you do not experience panic attacks, please do not joke about them.
- “She’s so bipolar” — term used when a loved one is experiencing a mood swing or intense sudden emotion. Why it’s offensive: bipolar disorder is a debilitating mental illness that includes severe depression and intense mania, often combined with self harm and/or suicidal thoughts. Emotions are normal, mood swings are normal to an extent, so if your loved one does not meet the criteria for a mental health-related diagnosis, please refrain from using “bipolar” lightly and inappropriately.
- “I got PTSD from… ” a phrase thrown around quite often when people had a bad experience with something, such as a test, talking to a cute boy, or any event that went poorly. Why it’s offensive: PTSD is a result of a serious trauma, leaving the person constantly terrified and feeling unsafe until treatment reduces symptoms. PTSD takes lives every year and makes living unbearable. Chances are, taking a test, even a really hard one, will not leave you with diagnosable PTSD. So, please, if you don’t actually have PTSD, do not joke about it.
I believe that one day, mental illnesses will not be stigmatized or misused in everyday language. I don’t think poorly of anyone who has made these mistakes, and it is out of genuine love that I bring these issues to light. Let’s all work together to make our society a safe place for everyone, including those battling a mental illness. We can do it!