How Mental Illnesses and Adjectives Differ.

Mental Health Awareness Week Part The Second-

As I said earlier this week when posting my Toenail Metaphor, it is mental health awareness week. As a blogger on such issues I felt obliged to do something. Today I am talking about the incorrect use of the names of mental illnesses. A subject I can get very heated about if needed.

How would you feel if someone sitting next to you on the bus announced, whilst coming up with mindless smalltalk, that the weather is “so cancer”. You would rearrange the bag for life filled with groceries which you have precariously perched on your knee and turn to them.


“Well it is unwanted, difficult and my hands hurt with the cold… Kind of like cancer.”

What would you say to them?

Would you point out that cancer is a life threatening and excruciating illness which often effects whole families rather than just the sufferer?

The misuse of the names of mental illnesses is a daily occurrence:

“I nearly had a panic attack when they missed that goal”

“I’m depressed… I’m out of my favourite ice cream.”

“My teacher is so bipolar, one minute she’s nice and the next she is giving out detentions.”

“She went schizo on me!”

“I’m so OCD about my bookshelves.”

“He’s a psycho…”

She is like anorexic skinny.”

Mental illnesses are not adjectives poster showing insensitive quotes similar to those listed.

People aren’t doing this to be malicious, there is a genuine lack of awareness surrounding mental health. I believe it is a problem we are encountering on the way to having a better attitude towards mental illness. As these conditions become better known and more talked about (something which many are supportive of) some people find a grey area and get stuck there. The more we talk the more we are educating each other but somewhere along the lines the message got lost:

Mental Illnesses Are Not Adjectives.

Like physical illnesses you cannot self diagnose, there are medical professionals who are trained to recognise and treat these illnesses. Sufferers experience daily battles which those without mental health problems can barely imagine, so using these terms incorrectly belittles these disorders. The names of mental illnesses should not be used to emphasise, describe or elaborate.

So get your facts right and learn some new words!

“I’m so depressed.”


It is hardly like you are stuck for choice of words to use.

Now for some myth busting:

1. “Mental illness these days is fashionable. Everyone seems to be mentally ill!”

As stigma lessens more people are coming forward and talking about their mental health problems. This does not mean that more people necessarily have them, it is just that we know of more people who have these conditions. Putting it into my previous metaphor: cancer incidence rates in Great Britain have risen by 23% in males and by 43% in females since the mid-1970s. Is cancer fashionable? Didn’t think so.

2. “If everyone sought out diagnosis we would all be diagnosed with mental illnesses.”

Having a mental illness is a physical abnormality. Though you can’t see it from the outside (only symptoms) things are very different inside the brain. These brain scans show abnormality in three disorders compared to a healthy brain. Diagnosis has strict guidelines and people are thoroughly assessed before being diagnosed. The reason not everyone has a diagnosis is because not everyone has these disorders, if you are not having your day-to-day life affected by symptoms you will not feel the need to seek diagnosis.

3.  “You should just get on with it.”

Sadly it just isn’t that simple. If someone could choose not to have or to just ‘get on with’ their mental illness they probably would. It would make life a lot easier. These illnesses have a physical affect on the body as well as a mental one. Muscle pain from tension, panic attacks, exhaustion and unusual behaviour are just some of the physical symptoms a mental illness can cause. What makes it worse is that those are just the symptoms that can be seen by others, internally a lot more is happening.

A cartoon showing people making unhelpful comments to people with decapitated hands, lying in surgery etc.


I hope you enjoyed MHAW14 and get commenting!


5 thoughts on “How Mental Illnesses and Adjectives Differ.

  1. Yes, I find that the OCD one is particularly prevalent these days even among people who have a generally enlightened and good awareness of other mental health conditions. It distorts the true meaning to the extent that I wasn’t aware about my own, now diagnosed, OCD til fairly recently.

    1. Yes I completely agree! On a bad day it can make me pretty angry to hear someone saying they are ‘so OCD’. They don’t understand the nature of the condition and how it is so much more than just perfectionism and a liking for order. So I just silently let the steam come out of my ears… Thank you for the follow and for commenting 🙂

      1. Hanging in there. Thanks for caring. Slumps come after highs. Not in a severe slump. It’s to be expected given recent hypomania and anxiety. I have two groups this week, group psychotherapy with pdoc tonight and NAMI Peer-to-Peer psychoeducation group tomorrow. Keep up the good work.

Leave a Reply to Kitt O'Malley Cancel reply