Can We Stop Labeling Ourselves With Our Mental Illnesses?

Hattie Gladwell
Metro.co.uk

You are not OCD. You have OCD. That’s an important distinction.

I really wish people would stop labelling themselves – and others – with their mental illness.

What I’m talking about is discussing mental illness as though it’s something that you are – and not something that you have.

How many times have you heard someone describe themselves as being ‘ao OCD’ or ‘so Bipolar’? My guess is lots.

Labeling yourself with a mental illness not only overshadows how serious it is, portraying it as a personality trait or a passing mood, but also hammers home the difference in the way we view physical and mental illness.

You wouldn’t say you are a broken leg, now would you? What you’d say is that you have a broken leg. And we should be discussing mental illness in the same manner.

Describing yourself as your mental illness rather than saying you have it suggests that’s all you are. It takes up your identity. I worry that if I were to label myself as someone who is bipolar as opposed to who has bipolar, the person I’m describing myself to may never be able to see beyond that.

While I want my mental illness to be acknowledged, I want every other part of me to be recognized too.

I understand that everyone, at least everyone with a mental illness, is entitled to speak about it in a way they feel most at ease. But it worries me that not doing so properly will hold up the unfortunate idea that invisible illnesses don’t affect you as much as physical ones.

It’s unfortunate that it’s the people with mental illness who are forced to educate those without. It shouldn’t be up to us. In a perfect world people would accept that mental illness is a real, debilitating thing (well, in a perfect world mental illness wouldn’t even be a thing, but you get my point).

As a person with a mental illness who feels as though it’s my duty to educate those around me, I think it’s important that I refer to it properly. When I tell people about my bipolar disorder, I tell them that it’s something I have. That I live with. That I’m treated for.

I talk about it in the same manner that I would a physical illness. I never, ever refer to myself as a ‘bipolar person’, because this will only further increase the assumption that a mental disorder is something that you are, and not what you’ve been diagnosed with.

I feel treating a mental illness the same as a physical when being vocal about it is an important way to gradually express that mental illness is real. That mental disorders warrant a diagnosis and they shouldn’t be treated in the same way as natural emotions.

And that’s the thing – talking about mental illness as something that we are and not that we have does this. People have got it into their heads that it’s okay to refer to their moods and personality traits as a mental illness.

When someone goes off into a fit of rage because someone’s upset them, after having been quite content beforehand, someone will label them ‘so bipolar’. This is only adds to the stigma and misunderstanding around mental illness.

But how can people fully understand why this is wrong if they see people with mental illness speaking as though mental illness is something they are and not what they have?

I get it, mental illness is hard enough to deal with without someone telling you how you should or shouldn’t refer to it.

But I think that if we really want to get across how debilitating and life-consuming it can be, we can all make an effort to make sure we say it’s something we have, not something we are.

We need to make it clear that mental illness deserves the same respect as any other physical illness. We need to make it clear that our mental illness does not define us.

 

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