Change your Language

I alluded to this briefly in a previous blog, so I decided to keep it rolling into this week. How often have you heard, or used, a term like OCD, Bipolar, ADD, or anorexic to casually describe a person or situation? I hear it all the time. And I know there were times that I myself used these terms outside the context of clinical diagnosis.

To some, this may seem like semantics, or something big being made out of something small. You may roll your eyes, or sigh, thinking “Oh, you know what I mean”. But this is a problematic habit.

Although therapy and mental health have become less stigmatized in some populations, the stigma still very much exists. Even in places where it appears the stigma has been erased, it often still lingers below the surface- “therapy is great…but I would never go”; “therapy is great… for crazy people”. Words have meaning, and when we use diagnostic terms, like those I mentioned above, as an adjective to describe negative situations or negative attributes of a person, we perpetuate mental health stigma and promote misinformation.

OCD, Bipolar Disorder, ADD, Anorexia, etc., etc. are diagnoses. They are not adjectives. Describing the weather as bipolar because it is warm one day and cold the next is a completely inappropriate and incorrect use of a mental health diagnosis. Bipolar disorder is characterized by depressive and manic episodes- not simply changes in mood or feelings. Describing yourself as OCD because you like things done a certain way or are clean is not reflecting OCD accurately. OCD involves intrusive obsessions, and compulsions intended to suppress or neutralize the obsessions- it is not a tendency towards extreme tidiness. These diagnoses are significant and often chronic and life altering, in one way or another, for individuals who legitimately live with them. Using these terms flippantly dismisses these diagnoses, and mischaracterize the diagnosis the associated symptoms.

This is such a simple change that we can make in our language. The stigma surrounding mental health and therapy will not disappear or change overnight, but we can all commit to making these small changes that will start to alter the way that this human experience is viewed and treated in our culture. There are a million words out there- be aware of what ones you are using!

To learn more or to book an appointment, contact me via telephone or email.

Brenna Burke, LMFT is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice in Valencia, CA. She provides individual psychotherapy and couples counseling. Information provided through this website is for informational purposes only. It does not create a therapist-client relationship and does not replace clinical assessment or professional consultation.