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.