Making Mental Illness Cool



I have noticed a tendency in our current culture to casually ascribe various forms of mental illness to ourselves and others.

“Sorry, it’s my ADD. What were you saying?”

“My OCD is out of control.”

“Whoa! Have you taken your meds today?”

“She can be so bipolar sometimes!”

And I find myself wondering whether this phenomenon is a good thing or a bad thing.

On the one hand, it’s refreshing to hear people openly discussing mental illness – taking it out of the shadows, so to speak. With health insurance increasingly providing coverage for mental health, well-known public figures revealing their own struggles with mental illness, and a (slowly) growing acceptance that such afflictions as depression and bipolar disorder are diseases and not character flaws, we have made great strides in de-stigmatizing people who suffer from mental illness.

On the other hand, throwing around terms like “OCD” and “bipolar” flippantly seems to trivialize the very real and often devastating effects of mental illness. Just because I’m a bit moody, that doesn’t mean I have bipolar disorder. A person who is an extreme neatnik does not necessarily have obsessive compulsive disorder.

One problem I can foresee is that by ascribing our behavior so readily to some form of mental illness, we make it harder for people who truly suffer from the disease to be taken seriously. This has already started to happen with Attention Deficit Disorder with Hyperactivity (ADHD). There has been a strong backlash against what people see as the over-diagnosis of children with ADHD.

Another problem with trivializing mental illness is that people who don’t really suffer from mental illness will see themselves as victims of ADHD, autism, or OCD. We can develop a victim mentality and make excuses for our behavior based upon our own self-diagnoses.

I am glad that mental illness has been hauled out of the dark attic where it used to be hidden, shrouded in whispers and shame. I am glad there are organizations such as NAMI (the National Alliance on Mental Illness) to promote understanding, research, and help for those who genuinely do suffer from mental illness. I am even glad that we can laugh about it a bit, thus removing some of the angst surrounding these diseases.

I just think we should proceed with caution when we talk about such illnesses as depression, bipolar disorder, OCD, and autism, for example. And I know that we should take seriously the struggles of those who suffer from any form of mental illness.

13 thoughts on “Making Mental Illness Cool

  1. Agreed on this, Mary. I know there’s not ill intent in most cases, but treating serious diagnoses like this makes them seem more like personality quirks, which is a step in the wrong direction.


  2. I’ll definitely reblog. I agree that making such comments trivializes mental disorders and makes it still more difficult for those with mental disorders to be taken seriously. They are also indicative of how we feel about such disorders. These analogies are never used to describe positive mind states. Saying “my OCD is out of control” or “Sorry, it’s my ADHD,” one hopes to excuse embarrassing or rude behavior. I’ve never heard anyone say, “Wow! I’m so bipolar!” when they had a particularly productive day.

    Such comments also demonstrate the extent of misunderstanding the mental health community faces in improving life for those with mental disorders. My bipolar disorder has nothing to do with being indecisive. Anxiety isn’t just a case of nerves. People with OCD don’t just go overboard with organization. Schizophrenia isn’t just paranoia.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Amy

    I had to think about this for a moment, but I definitely see your point. My daughter is especially sensitive to hearing people joke about being ADHD around her, because she thinks it trivializes her struggles. Thank you for providing both viewpoints on this topic. Maybe people who are saying these thinks believe it is like saying they are going to have a stroke or a heart attack when they are stressed. Unfortunately there is a lot more stigma still associated with mental illness, and it may be too soon to start kidding around about it. Great post!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I never thought about the analogy with people saying, for example, I almost had a heart attack. And I think you are right. We can joke about or trivialize that because there is no embarrassment or shame connected with having a heart attack. Thanks for your point of view, Amy.


  4. Hello! Over here from Crazy Good Parent. Yes, I absolutely agree with you here. I appreciate that “mental illness” is becoming a more mainstream topic, but like you, I really dislike the flippant way in which people joke about it. In fact, I find the victim mentality to be so prevalent at times that I’m hesitant to seek a formal diagnosis or talk about what I suspect my particular brain state is. (And I just realized that since I’m not formally diagnosed, I could very well be put into the “flippant” camp. Oiy.)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dakota, I think there is a big difference between being flippant and seriously considering that you may be suffering from some form of mental illness. For many years, I have wondered whether there are degrees of depression and whether I might be a mildly depressed person. Yet I worry that if I say, “I’m so depressed,” I will be trivializing the despair of someone suffering with this devastating illness. I look forward to a future in which people can seek diagnoses for mental illness with the same forthright inquiry and lack of shame that they do for other illnesses. Thanks for reading.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I love this post Mary and will be re-blogging when I get a chance. My profession is mental health therapy, and there are definitely different levels and intensities of a disorder, like depression. Just because someone has it worse off, doesn’t mean your depression, ADHD, addiction, etc doesn’t count. If one person with cancer removes a lump and has some chemo, we wouldn’t tell that person “you don’t really have cancer. You require ongoing radiation treatments and months of chemo to really have cancer.” Some mental health conditions can be self-managed at times but can be intense enough at other times to require medications and treatment. It never hurts to see a therapist to assist you in alleviating emotional pain. Last analogy: not seeking help for emotional pain because you know it could be worse is like having a headache and not taking aspirin because there are burn victims in great pain sitting in ICU.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Thank you for sharing your expertise, Suzanne. I feel fortunate not to have a mental illness that incapacitates me, but I have at times sought the help of psychologists when going through times of intense distress. I have also encouraged my children to do the same and hope I am modeling an acceptance of mental illness as simply a type of illness or dysfunction, not a character flaw or source of shame. Thanks again for your thoughtful comments.


  5. I think it is unfortunate that the word “depression” is used to mean two different things, The examples you give with regard top other mental illness seem to go beyond minimizing what it means to dealing with the illness to being contemptuous and dismissive.


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