The misuse of mental health terms – is it acceptable?
The weather has been ‘bipolar’ this week, a neat and tidy friend has Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), and someone who tried to chat you up in a bar was as awkward as someone with Asperger’s.
Using mental health terms as if they are clichés has become commonplace in the past few years, we hear them dropped into conversation as though they are just any other word, but as much as the people who say them don’t do so out of malice, are they accurate and more importantly, are they acceptable?
Much research has suggested that using mental health terms to describe personality traits is becoming increasingly common, with a 2007 study of the terms “schizophrenia” and “schizophrenic” in the UK media revealing that 11% of the references were metaphorical.
According to consultant psychiatrist Arun Chopra who works at Queen’s Medical Centre based in Nottingham, using these terms so flippantly can have a negative impact upon patients who are actually affected by these conditions (and their families) and can contribute to misunderstanding and stigma.
Chopra recalled one particular situation in which the mother of a schizophrenic patient burst into tears when she read in a newspaper article that the weather was “schizophrenic”.
“You would never hear it used in relation to a physical condition. You wouldn’t hear someone being described as a bit diabetic.” Chopra added.
Chief executive of the Mental Health Foundation, Andrew McCulloch is of the same opinion, and believes that using clinical diagnosis terms in such a way simply fuels public misunderstanding.
He went onto say that the positive of this negative situation is that at least we have now moved away from not mentioning these conditions at all. Now the hard work lies in educating people about these mental health conditions.
“Five years ago people wouldn’t have known what you were talking about if you mentioned OCD,” he says. “Now they have a sense of what it is about and use it, but don’t really fully understand it. The next five years will be about working to fully educate people.” Said McCulloch.
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