Posted on February 24, 2016

How to Be Socially Aware About Mental Health

Lifestyle

You never know what someone is going through. Unlike physical illnesses that manifest on the exterior of the body, mental illness can be hard to immediately identify because it’s an internal struggle. Unfortunately, many people use mental disorders as adjectives, romanticizing illnesses people struggle with every day. Maybe it’s because they don’t understand. Maybe it’s because mental illness does not receive the societal recognition it deserves. Whatever the reason, no one should make these illnesses into an adjective that people can throw around in everyday conversation. Not only does it insult people who have some connection to the illness, but it is simply not politically correct. Here are some phrases that you might have said in the past—now you have no excuse to use them in everyday conversation.

“She’s like, anorexic skinny.” You probably hear this phrase all the time, especially with the battle of the body positivity movement. Guess what? Just because someone is thin, doesn’t mean they’re anorexic. In the United States alone, 20 million women and 10 million men suffer from some type of eating disorder at some time in their life, including anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and binge eating disorder. Not many people realize that shaming people because they may be overweight is the same as shaming people for being thin. People come in all shapes and sizes. Some may be naturally curvier or naturally thinner—people can’t always help it. This doesn’t mean you can attribute someone’s shape to a mental illness. It’s an unfair assumption.

“You almost gave me a panic attack.” Sneaking up or pulling a prank on someone does not elicit a panic attack in every single person. Yes, it is possible for someone who actually has anxiety to have a panic attack if this happens to them, but if you do not actually have this disorder, it’s distasteful to throw this term around. Panic attacks are emotionally debilitating. Symptoms vary from person to person, but some include lack of control, lightheadedness, heaviness in the chest, loss of breath, chills and  a rapid heartbeat. It’s a very real, emotional and sometimes physical, experience. It’s hard enough for people with anxiety to be understood, but to make light of a legitimate attack can make a person with anxiety feel small.

“Ugh, I’m so OCD about that.” Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is disorder that is often thrown around in regular conversation, denouncing the severity of the illness. First of all, saying “I’m so OCD!” does not make any sense. You cannot be Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. It is something several people have and live with on a day-to-day basis. Second of all, just because you are an organized person does not mean you have OCD. People can simply be organized. People who actually struggle with OCD tend to get insulted when people make light of their disorder—go figure. Try to take this phrase out of your vocabulary. It’s not a joke.

“I got so depressed when he told me that.” Many people don’t understand the difference between being depressed and plain ‘ol sadness. Depression affects about 15 million Americans of all ages, sexes, orientations and colors. Belittling their illness doesn’t help anyone. Look into different forms and severity levels of depression; there’s a lot to learn. Educating yourself is the first step to understanding why and how exaggerating sadness is a far cry from what it actually means to be depressed.

When people throw around these phrases, it can trigger people with these disorders. Hearing people who obviously do not struggle with the same things you do say these things can hurt. If you actually have an eating disorder or anxiety, it is extremely upsetting to hear anyone minimize the extremity of said illness. Hearing your peers throwing disorders around lessens the severity of the illness, making it less of a priority. Try to make an effort to educate yourself about mental health and be more sensitive to those who are affected by these disorders daily. This being said, if you develop a disorder or discover you have one, you will not think it is as serious as it is. Society generally places mental disorders on the back burner, but don’t let the invalidate how you’re feeling. All mental illness is serious.

If you need someone to talk to on campus, look into the UNT Campus Counseling services located in Chestnut Hall 311. (Contact info: counselingandtestingservices@unt.edu; (940) 565-2741)

Photo by: Huy Tran

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