Michael Portrait for Column

So you like to put your left sock on before your right. You dunk your cookies twice on each side.

Sometimes you might even use conditioner before shampoo because it feels so, so right.

But what if I said that doesn’t make you obsessive compulsive, no more than dropping a slushy makes you “depressed,” a mood swing makes you “bipolar,” a tantrum makes you “schizo” or an angry text makes you “psycho.”

These shouldn't be everyday words. They are representations of specific psychiatric terms with connotations unfitting for hyperbole. Individuals’ behaviour fits these connotations only so far as their neurological makeup matches the clinical diagnoses.

Sadness, for example, is an unfortunate but normal part of life. It does not necessarily accompany a neurological imbalance of serotonin as depression often does. And relief found by redirecting attention is a privilege depression does not allow.

Likewise, that left-sock-first mandate makes you particular. It may even frustrate you when you can’t remember whether you did it. But it probably isn’t reflective of a misguided fight-or-flight mechanism or imbalanced serotonin, such may be the case with obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Recognizing the difference between daily life and mental illness is important, because some people’s daily lives are consumed by their mental illness. They can’t divert their attention or sleep it off. Their ill thoughts spring from an unwell foundation, leaving them at the whim of their neurological makeup.

And as misuse of psychiatric terms occurs, the distinction between healthy and ill is muddied. This creates tensions in communities' understanding of mental illness, giving those coming forward with their stories less of a chance to be properly understood. If someone thinks watching their favourite team lose is “depressing,” how will they properly relate to someone who’s actually depressed?

Only one in three Canadians experiencing mental health issues seek services or treatment, and the Canadian Mental Health Association indicates public misunderstanding as a primary cause of mental health's stigmatization.

Cleaning up our language will clean up the way we think about mental health. By centring our conversations on science, we will allow for honest discussion around illness and treatments. We each have a responsibility to support those around us and also ourselves when we may be feeling irregular. This begins with how we present mental health in everyday life.

So yeah, your ex-partner sent you 19 texts in 18 minutes. That doesn’t make them “psycho.” Creepy, yes. Overly-attached, maybe. But not “psycho."

Resisting the urge to lazily label them, or anyone else, will promote sensible discussion around mental health when it matters most. That's worthwhile.


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