Talking about mental illness is a thorny subject. It affects a lot of people on a very intimate level. Mental illness affects a person’s personality, thoughts, mind-set and behaviour. With this in mind, people often brand an individual on the basis of their mental health and state: ‘you are bi-polar’ instead of ‘you have bi-polar’.
Whilst a mental illness affects so many areas of an individual’s life it is important to remember that they never ëareí their mental illness. Stating that someone is depressed, is bi-polar, or is schizophrenic means that you are defining them by an illness, something that is out of their control. Having bi-polar disorder is not a lifestyle choice.
When talking about mental illness it is incredibly harmful to define a person by their mental health. They are not ‘bi-polar’; rather they are currently suffering with bi-polar disorder. They are not ‘psycho’ but are instead experiencing symptoms of psychosis.
People are much more than their illness. In defining someone as ‘psycho’ or ‘bi-polar’ you are suggesting that they are nothing more than an illness. A person’s mental health is only one facet of their personality and experiences. Defining someone solely on the state of their mental health is reductive in that it fails to consider all the other facets and dimensions of an individual’s beliefs and experiences that they may prefer to be defined as. We should not define someone as ‘bi-polar’ in the same way as they may define themselves as a ‘pacifist’ or a ‘conservative’.
Viewing mental health as a choice is where many people go wrong. No-one wakes up and decides that they will have bulimia or schizophrenia in the same way as no-one wakes up and decides they will have measles or the flu. The understanding of mental health as within an individualís control is damaging. It perpetuates ideas that people who suffer from depression can simply ‘snap out of it’ and ‘try harder’. Mental illness is not an active choice and a person cannot snap out of depression in the same way that they cannot snap out of cancer. There needs to be a stronger understanding of the way in which mental illness is indeed an illness.
In a society where all we seem to do is talk about what is right, or politically correct, to say and what is not, how we talk about mental illness is the last frontier and should still be considered as important and not ‘political correctness gone mad’. It is this statement alone that proves why how we talk and view mental illness should be a concern. Why is ìmadî necessarily a bad thing? What even does it mean for something to be ‘mad’? Mental illness has long been ostracised and other-ed to the point where people still call patients in a mental institution ìinmatesî and describe them as being ‘released’ instead of ‘discharged’. We should not talk about how things ‘go madî and are ‘crazy’ as it dehumanises the people that suffer from a mental illness and underplays the seriousness of a mental illness.
Only through teaching and calling people out on using these terms will they, and the culture of ignorance they create, end. It is important to remind ourselves that people are so much more than their mental health.