Psychiatry Associates Blog

Mental Health Terminology: Commonly Misused Terms

misused mental health terms-759716-edited.jpegWe live in a time when society has, fortunately, become more aware of mental health disorders and how they may impact patients and their loved ones.  These conditions and the medications needed to treat them are gaining increasing mainstream acceptance.  However, with this acceptance comes a few lingering misconceptions and some misused terminology.  While the immediate impact of using an incorrect term may seem minimal, continuing our forward strides in psychiatry and mental health care in general depends on using these words and phrases accurately.  Below are some of the more common terms and the ways that they are often misused throughout our society.

Casually Referring to Ourselves or Others as OCD

Many people like things neat and orderly, and may even have trouble relaxing when they know there is unfolded laundry or dirty dishes.  But, such quirks are a far cry from a professional diagnosis of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).  Furthermore, tossing out a casual diagnosis of OCD to describe someone’s organized and orderly behavior only serves to diminish the true severity of the condition and its impact.  For individuals with OCD, obsessive behavior crosses the line from “neat freak” to an overwhelming need to complete certain tasks in certain ways and an irrational fear of potential consequences should these things not be accomplished.  It is also often hallmarked by disturbing, intrusive thoughts over which the sufferer has absolutely no control. 

Referring to Mood Swings as Bipolar

Bipolar disorder is characterized by manic highs and depressive lows, but this is far more extreme than the mood swings that most people experience.  When someone who actually suffers from Bipolar disorder experiences these episodes, they can spend weeks at a time in a state of euphoria and may take major risks without fear of the consequences.  On the other hand, this same individual can also experience extended depressive episodes marked by insomnia, intense sadness, and even thoughts of suicide.

Calling Someone “Schizo” or “Psycho”

Neither of these phrases are meant to be complimentary, but for many people, they represent a real-life diagnosis, and using such terms negatively can have a big impact on both them and our perception of them.  Schizophrenia and other forms of psychosis are lifelong conditions which can dramatically affect a patient’s future and general wellbeing.  While such conditions are occasionally seen in conjunction with criminal behavior, this is the exception rather than the rule.  In general, the person most negatively affected by schizophrenia or other diagnosis of psychosis is the patient themselves, and they stand to benefit greatly from a society that does not shun or persecute them based on their condition.

As we move forward in our understanding and acceptance of mental health disorders, we have the opportunity to affect positive change in those around us.  Part of this can begin by carefully selecting our terminology and only using clinical terms to refer to an actual diagnosis, rather than a quirk or as an insult. 

If you believe that you or someone you care about is suffering from a mental health condition, take out the assumptions and guesswork.  The best course of action you can take is to seek medical help and obtain an accurate diagnosis.  If you are in the greater Baton Rouge area, contact Psychiatry Associates of Baton Rouge, and request an appointment with one of our highly-trained physicians.

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