Understand the difference between what you say and what you mean, especially when it comes to these, and so many more, serious conditions.
Sadness is normal, as is stress. There's nothing wrong with breaking down or crying in general. It's okay to have one of those days. It's okay to have a few of those days. You are allowed to be not-so-fine. But that doesn't mean you have permission to claim a medical episode to describe your everyday inconvenience.
Don't fall into the hyperbolical trap just because you've heard it so many times before.
When the identifying characteristics of these serious disorders are used so loosely, the true struggle of those diagnosed is normalized and begins to lose credibility. Don't use these words to describe how you're feeling if you don't understand how they truly feel.
Like I said, sadness is normal. As humans, we tend to be sad when something less-than-ideal happens: when we disappoint someone, when a loved one dies, when a friend stops caring, when a storm cancels plans. There is typically a cause and effect relationship in which something happens – like one of the aforementioned events – invoking a negative emotional response.
We can point to what is wrong.
Depression differs from the average blues in that it is an abnormal emotional response. It leaves one feeling sad about everything. It takes away most of the pleasure from activities one used to enjoy. It steals sleep, or the opposite, leaving one in bed far longer than usual. It affects motivation, concentration, energy, and can often be mistaken for laziness. It isolates the depressed from family and friends. And it's chronic, lasting from two weeks to years in major episodes.
If you are feeling any of the above symptoms, please seek help. If not, please think again before saying you're depressed because your favorite TV show was canceled.
People come in all shapes in sizes – so do personalities. We are unique in the sense that not one of us is identical, but we still hold standards of how one "should" react to emotional triggers. For example, it is typical for an individual to feel happiness from a positive stimulus and to feel anger or sadness from the opposite. Again, we see this cause and effect relationship from experience to emotion. Sometimes, this phenomenon is set off more easily in some than others. We call these people "moody."
This does not equate to Bipolar Disorder.
Those clinically diagnosed as bipolar have severe rollercoasters of emotions. Also called Manic Depression, this disorder is characterized by periods of mania – a heightened, energetic state in which one can lose touch with reality – and depression, which is described in detail above. These "ups" and "downs" are unpredictable in severity and duration, and can be extremely damaging to an individual and his/her surroundings.
These individuals are not "moody." This is a serious disorder that should be treated by a medical professional, not made fun of in your everyday conversation.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) affects veterans and civilians alike. It arises after an individual witnesses or experiences a traumatic event such as war, abuse, motor vehicle accidents, natural disasters, etc. It is not what you feel when reminded of a difficult exam or some other minor occurrence.
Those diagnosed with PTSD may often experience flashbacks of the event, have trouble trusting others, and/or take drastic measures to avoid triggers. Not one of these, or any other, symptoms means that those who suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder are any less capable of combating stressors or healing from trauma than you are.
Nor is it a sign of weakness.
It is a sign of strength, of resilience, of the ability to pick oneself up from absolute terror to move forward and continue living. To continue living through the pain of the worst day of one's life. Again, not a joking matter. This disorder is an invisible scar that is a part of someone's incredible story. Stop making it seem like anything less than that.
4. "Panic/anxiety attack"
Anxiety can be a healthy response to stressors. All those firsts - the first date, first day of school, first time driving - they get the heart racing, the palms sweating, the blood pressure rising.
Anxiety can be beneficial... but it can also be a problem.
"Anxiety disorder" is an umbrella term that includes various problematic reactions to triggers. Most common is General Anxiety Disorder (GAD), from which an individual experiences excessive worry with little to no reasoning. Phobias are also a part of the anxiety disorder, as they are characterized by an irrational fear (and thus avoidance) of something.
One phobia, in particular, is often misrepresented in the public eye: social phobia. Also referred to as social anxiety, this leads an individual to feel he or she is constantly being judged by both peers and strangers, resulting in aversion of social situations to avoid embarrassment or ridicule.
Last, but most certainly not least, is panic disorder. Have you ever felt such panic to the point where you lose physical control? Your breath cut into short inhales, your voice silent, your chest spiraling into an impossible knot, your mind a dizzy fog? Sometimes, this destructive form of anxiety induces spells of terror that cycle through pulling hair, draining tears, and stealing breath, all before leaving migraines and pure exhaustion behind. In serious cases, a catalyst to this process is as simple as deciding what to wear, and can only be tamed with a sedative.
Saying "calm down" is not how you help someone calm down.
So, when your friend confesses to you that she missed a day of class because of a panic attack, do you think she's being dramatic? Probably, because to your understanding, nerves can be shoo'd away with a chill pill. What you don't know is that she had to leave in the middle her test because she was hyperventilating so fast she started to lose vision. What you probably didn't realize is that she had to be driven home to take one of those benzodiazepines you like to experiment with at parties, only for her, it was medically necessary.
When that "weird" kid hugs the walls to get from one place to the next, do you whisper about him to your friends? Did you stop to consider that, maybe, his social anxiety is already putting him through hell, screaming insults in his ear, without the kind contribution of your hushed negativity? Probably not, because you think social anxiety is what keeps you from posting your third Instagram photo this week.
I can't even count how many times I've heard this one misused. It's called Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder for a reason… it's not "I have a tendency to keep things tidy."
OCD is not a choice.
Those diagnosed with this condition will often resort to extreme coping methods to gain even the slightest bit of relief from obsessions. Some behaviors include cleaning, re-checking, repeating, etc. It is commonly believed that if tasks aren't completed or behavior isn't performed, drastic consequences such as contamination, physical harm or divine punishment will occur. These intrusive thoughts are often accompanied by extreme anxiety (as described above) that, like most mental disorders, severely interferes with daily function.
A similar condition, Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder (OCPD), involves extreme attention to perfection, orderliness, rules, and detail. The key difference here is that those with OCPD believe their actions have a purpose and aim while those with OCD grow distressed with a continuation of unwanted behavior. This is simply another reason you should avoid saying you're "obsessed" with that new song, or that you make your bed every morning because you're "so OCD."
It is important to distinguish the lifestyles of those affected by these disorders from each other, as well as from those who just like to color code.
6. "I want to kill myself"
There is no misunderstanding or lack of education involved in this misused phrase. Joking about suicide is blatantly ignorant and inexcusable. It's different in every experience. But it's not a way out. It's an emptiness to an unimaginable degree. It's numbness that is more painful to live with than to escape from. When we joke about ending our own lives, we discourage those with serious ideations from reaching out for help.
If you or someone you know is facing a crisis, please contact the National Suicide Prevention line or speak to a loved one.
You are enough.
Maybe I've made you rethink some of your word choices. Maybe not. Maybe you're wondering, "Who the hell are you to talk about all of these disorders?" And you're right.
Who the hell am I? I'm someone who has dealt firsthand with four of the listed topics (to various extents), and sees all six in those I hold closest to my heart. I'm someone who has felt the knife of your words when you inadvertently make fun of me or my friend or my family member or even the random guy you didn't realize was within earshot. And, yeah, I'm also human! I'm not immune to the slip-ups involved in our watered-down use of language. The important distinction here is that I can recognize when I am wrong, and I can do something about it. That's what I'm hoping to do by sharing this with you.
So. Be thoughtful. Be inclusive. Be respectful. You never know what someone is going through, so you might as well be kind.