Last updated on November 18, 2021
By Zaria J. ’24
CONTENT WARNING: mention of suicide and other mental health challenges
Mental health disorders in young adults and teens have been on the rise since quarantine began. Mental illnesses such as anxiety and depression have especially risen in numbers. Such disorders and others are often misunderstood and misused due to the lack of knowledge or empathy on these subjects. Many phrases such as “the weather is so bipolar today,” when the weather suddenly changes or “I’m literally about to have a panic attack!” have been used in everyday conversations, and they’re harmful because they misdiagnose over small inconveniences.
In an interview with Lynn Heramis, one of the Northwest School Counselors, she explains how comments and/or terms related to mental health can be used in hurtful ways that result in unintended consequences on those who may be on the receiving end. She says that it can have the effect of invalidating and minimizing an individual’s potential experience(s) of struggling with mental health, which can perpetuate the stigma associated with mental health support.
Not fully knowing or understanding someone’s situation and continuing to exploit and minimize serious topics and mental health issues can be hurtful and emotionally, physically, and mentally harmful. Making statements and using words such as ‘traumatizing,’ “ADHD/ADD,” “depressed,” “Mental/Psycho/Crazy,” “triggering,” the “R” slur, etc. can be extremely damaging when used out of context or when not properly pertaining to the situation. The mental health issues exampled are just a few terms that are often learned through very exaggerated and stereotyped media. When we reflect these stereotypes in our daily lives, it can be alarming to those who actually suffer from mental health issues, as it may cause a relapse or other painful repercussions.
Social media platforms like Instagram and TikTok have flagged and removed videos and pictures that mention these ideas, yet people continue to find loopholes to include these phrases in their posts and keep them up. Gen Z phrases like “I’m gonna unalive myself” are nothing new to hear. Now, when people say things like this, they might not have the same level of seriousness that they used to. When you hear that said, is your reaction one of concern? Or do you think to yourself, “OMG same, I hate this class!”
An anonymous student shared their opinion on such topics, stating, “As someone with diagnosed mental health issues, hearing such phrases makes me uncomfortable, and honestly, very disappointed, disrespected, misunderstood and unheard.”
One may wonder why someone thinks it’s acceptable to use these terms in an inappropriate way, and the truth is that there are many reasons why someone does. For example, the use of these terms at home could be modeled in ways that send messages where not only is it acceptable, but also encouraged. Those that use these terms may not know the potential negative impacts on others because such comments may never be corrected or disrupted. Another reason is people may use it to fit in or gain social power as these terms may be considered “slang”. There are numerous answers to that question, and each answer is completely valid because we are individuals with different lives and perspectives.
Most modern “slang” around mental health is not slang, it’s a mocking of serious mental health challenges whether you intend it to be or not. Bringing awareness to the impact of your words on those around you can benefit your own health. A way to practice addressing a situation when these terms are incorrectly used is to respectfully correct the person after they say something potentially hurtful, talk to them about it at another time, or simply talk to a trusted adult or counselor about the language being used. Whether you confront them alone, with others, or not at all, there are people you can reach out to who can help you make sense of the impact, discuss strategies for addressing impacts, and problem-solve how to face such dilemmas.
Lynn Heramis says, “The thing with mental health is that it’s really important to have that self-awareness and compassion for when we make mistakes and might have said something that was hurtful. The key is to strive for self-compassion, doing better, and being our best self.”
I suggest reaching out to school counselors for such topics, or even simple personal topics like stress or relationships. Our school counselors are invested in the wellness of students and are here to support you. A way to contact Northwest school counselors, Erin North and Lynn Heramis, is through email, calendly.com, or popping up at their offices to see when they’re available. Their offices are located in the common area of the school. We all are developing and learning so many new things as the world spins, and there will always be more to learn. This is a matter of understanding your impact over intent, and knowing your impact, and being considerate of those around you, is just a few steps further into something we all are still learning.