Describing someone using a mental illness is offensive and inaccurate

By Christina Fazio

Comment Staff

A real doctor would not diagnose someone with bipolar disorder over minor troubles in life, so claiming someone is bipolar could be incorrect. Photo by The Clinical Psychologist's Bookshelf, used under Creative Commons license.
A real doctor would not diagnose someone with bipolar disorder over minor troubles in life, so claiming someone is bipolar could be incorrect. Photo by The Clinical Psychologist’s Bookshelf, used under Creative Commons license.

As educated college students, one would expect we use intelligible language appropriate and reflective of our scholastic achievement.

Out of all the vocabulary words we have acquired over the years, for some unjustified reason we sometimes find ourselves using a variety of psychological disorders in place of adjectives to describe ourselves or others.

While we all know that using the word ‘retard’ is highly offensive and have added it to the list of things not to say, why should any other psychological disorder be seen as an acceptable means of describing ourselves or others?

Well the answer is simple. They are not acceptable, nor are they an appropriate substitution that can be used interchangeably with other adjectives.

Most of the psychological disorders we use in place of adjectives tend to reduce the difficult stress and impairment they impose on individuals with the diagnosis.

For the people who have been diagnosed with a mental illness, it is incredibly insulting to hear someone making light out of the disorder that has disrupted their lives in negative ways.

Perhaps the frequency in which we hear these mental illnesses be referenced has made us desensitized to their seriousness and overall meaning behind these disorders.

No one would think twice about ever using cancer in a sick joke, or in some sarcastic sentence, yet we have inadvertently allowed psychological illnesses to embed themselves into our casual conversations, thus detaching the hardship and distress that comes along with their nature.

Take OCD for example. We all have that friend who will say things like “I’m wicked OCD about washing my hands.”

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is a clinical diagnosis for those experiencing significant distress and major impairment caused by the severe thoughts and urges to perform the ritualistic behavior as a means of alleviating the anxiety provoking obsessions.

Has that person been clinically diagnosed with an obsessive compulsive disorder, or is this person just ignorant and doesn’t know how to describe their preference for hand washing any other way?

Using the word bipolar has become quite the common way when describing someone who is hot and cold or whose mood seems to be all over the map.

It’s commonly used inappropriately, like when someone says “oh my god, my roommate is being so bipolar.”

Yet bipolar is a clinical diagnosis characterized as the chronic shifting between manic episodes and states of severe depression.

Is that person really being a psychological illness (doesn’t make sense, I know) or could you have used a better choice of words?

Unless the person you’re pinning this manic depressive label on actually has this disorder, you should choose a different set of words instead of making light of this serious psychological impairment.

Although referencing the act of committing suicide has made its way onto the list of things never to be joked about, there are still some of us who insist on using it to describe a dramatic reaction toward something.

“If my professor assigns one more paper, I’m going to jump off of a bridge,” might be something you hear, especially around this time while preparing for finals. Are you actually contemplating the act of taking your life, or are you being overly dramatic in an attempt to be funny?

More times than not, when someone mentions the word suicide, or references the act of taking one’s life, it’s not used in a serious sense, which is both disturbing and concerning .

Have we really resorted to using some of the most morbid concepts in our culture to make ironic remarks or insensitive statements?

There is nothing funny about the topic of mental illnesses, psychological disorders or suicide, and most would agree that words of that nature shouldn’t be included in the context of casual conversations.

As educated individuals we should be using language that articulates what we’re trying to say without being misleading, insulting or mocking any sort of illness, psychological ones included.


Christina Fazio is a Comment opinion writer. Email her at


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