“It’s my OCD.”
“She’s so bipolar.”
Photo by Alexander Dummer on Pexels.com
Does it ever seem like everybody nowadays has some sort of mental illness? Behaviours we find uncomfortable somehow explained by the latest acronym? They all have anxiety. Who doesn’t have depression?
That’s because everyone does have anxiety. Or at least, feelings of anxiety. And the same goes with depression. Anxiety has evolved inside of humans to serve vital functions. To be afraid of the lion stalking in the night. To think that standing precariously on the edge of a cliff might not be a good idea. Today, anxiety makes us on time for work. It helps us meet deadlines. Yes, it sometimes makes us feel uncomfortable, but can you imagine humans, without any anxiety? Not a society I want to live in.
Not everybody has Generalized Anxiety Disorder, or Major Depressive Disorder. These are mental illnesses; they are defined by criteria contained within a manual, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual V (DSM-5). What makes these disorders different from anxiety, and sadness (colloquially known as depression nowadays)? They are pervasive in people’s lives and cause difficulties in functioning.
Mental health awareness is amazing and the reduce the stigma campaign has done wonders for mental health research and support for those suffering from mental illness. A side effect of this campaign has been the increasing use of psychiatric terminology in common speech, resulting in confusion between what a physician means when they use certain terms, or when a term is used on Instagram. This has always happened – the word “paranoid” being a great example – but we are seeing it happen at an increased rate due to social media.
The message? We all have anxiety, sadness, and rigid behaviours (often misdefined as OCD). It’s normal. Those traits probably make you stronger, to some degree. The presence of those features does not mean you have a mental illness. If you are worried you have a mental illness, you should see your doctor. They can often help.
Editor’s note: Mental illness is very real and very debilitating. But the stigma remains. Throughout my career I’ve worked with people from all walks of life, mental health skeptics included, and I’ve come to appreciate that at least some of their frustration comes from the fact that seemingly “normal,” well people are endorsing having mental illness. I think what they are describing is a good example of why language matters, so hopefully this can help!
Dr. Travis Barron is a resident physician in Toronto, Canada.