Casual use of mental health terms causes undue stigmatization


“Oh my God, my professor is bipolar,” the student next to me said. “One day he is in a good mood, the next day he is so moody. I can’t stand him.”

“The kid next to me is so OCD. Do you see how organized he keeps everything?” I overheard in class.

Appropriating mental health terms to describe everyday occurrences has become so commonplace, even on our campus, that we do not even realize we are doing it. This use is incorrect and harms those who suffer from these disorders.

When people describe someone as “bipolar” or “OCD,” they never mean it in a positive light. When someone is bipolar, the implication is that the individual is very moody. This is a complete misrepresentation of bipolar disorder.

Bipolar disorder causes individuals to quickly swing from periods of hyperactivity to periods of depression and, sometimes, suicidal thoughts, according to the American Psychological Association.

Likewise, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a disorder characterized by uncontrollable feelings and rituals in which individuals must engage. For example, people with OCD might have to wash their hands many times a day.

Because casual use of these descriptors always has a negative connotation, there is a negative stigma associated with the disorders, often causing people who suffer from them to be ashamed of seeking help.

By making the diseases seem like something within their control, individuals are blamed for their own illnesses. However, like cancer or many other conditions, bipolar disorder is not the fault of the person who suffers from it.

I have a very close friend who has bipolar disorder, so I know from firsthand experience that her condition extends far beyond the moody stereotype.

Having a friend who is bipolar means not knowing whether they are going to be depressed or happy to see you. It means that you never know how to help them, or when they will be happy again because those periods of depression can last days, weeks, even months.

I am the last person who wishes to restrict someone’s free speech, but there is a difference between saying whatever you want and saying whatever you want because you refuse to acknowledge that mental health disorders are actual conditions. This is about respect.

Just as we do not mock people who have cancer, we should not mock those who need psychiatric help but are ashamed because of stigmatization. Instead, we should create a supportive environment and educate ourselves about the conditions. You never know if the person sitting next to you might, like so many, be suffering in silence.

Amanda Perez is a freshman majoring in psychology.

Featured image courtesy Pixabay user geralt



  1. Christian Liljenquist on

    I really enjoyed reading this because it relates to how my friends think sometimes. It has made me realize to try to put myself in their shoes before saying something about them..

  2. I love this article. Amanda, you are spot on and have opened my eyes. I endeavor to be more sensitive to those who have a true need.