Mental disorders as adjectives
I twitch at the sight of an uneven tile floor. I like triple-checking if the doors are locked. I tend to push couches, tables and beds against the wall lest there be space left in between. I always make sure that my backpack is zipped shut all the way. I wipe my glasses more than necessary. I absolutely loathe it when my quiz paper gets creases. I enjoy positioning my pens in a way that they all face the same direction. But I don’t have obsessive-compulsive disorder, and probably neither do you.
While only 2 percent of the general population is diagnosed with OCD, it’s not uncommon to hear people claim to have the condition simply because they abhor anything that appears disarrayed or asymmetrical. But the condition is far more complex than the repetitive hand-washing we typically associate it with in popular culture. The term is becoming more and more pervasive each day, used by the naive and educated alike —relatives, teachers, TV personalities, and doctors. Even Facebook bombards you with quizzes bearing the title “How OCD are you?” Although it’s true that people with OCD do tend to display the actions I cite, it is nowhere near the actual depiction of the illness’ harsh reality.
Let’s break down what obsessive-compulsive disorder is. Obsessions are what occur in the mind: These are unwarranted thoughts, impulses, and sensations that plague a person’s mind. Compulsions, on the other hand, are the effect of that obsessive thought: These are the acts that a person does to “get rid” or relieve themselves of these anxieties. The line that separates inclination from disorder is that we organize and clean because it gives us a sense of pleasure and fulfillment to do so, whereas people with the illness are constantly trapped in a cycle that compels them to act upon their obsessions and compulsions in order for them to function.
This isn’t about being politically correct or using euphemisms. The term itself isn’t offensive or disrespectful—but the perpetual misuse of it is. Daniel J. Boorstin once said, “The greatest enemy of knowledge is not ignorance, it is the illusion of knowledge.” To equate OCD with being fastidious, neat, and organized puts it in a box limited to only how we choose to see it. It might just seem like an innocuous act—something no more than a wrong word choice—but in using OCD as an adjective, what we’re really doing is diminishing the severity of the problem (which society has yet to consider as such). We are invalidating the disorder by passing it off as a mere quirk. As we throw these words around mindlessly, we allow ourselves to contribute to the dissemination of misconceptions. Consequently, this undermines the disorder and the struggles that come along with it, thus rendering it as something trifling, or negligible.
Likewise, the same concept holds true for other mental disorders. Depression isn’t just sadness, anxiety isn’t just stage fright, being bipolar isn’t just being moody, and ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) isn’t just being incapable of sitting still. It’s a bit frightening that we have grown so accustomed to claiming mental disorders as our own. We have ingrained all these so called “adjectives” in our casual vernacular at the expense of someone else’s debilitating illness. This leads to a callous atmosphere, making it more difficult for those afflicted to open up and seek the treatment they deserve.
During my time in Grade 12, my friends and I resolved to conduct a study on awareness among high school students regarding mental health for our Practical Research II subject. In the survey form we handed out, we listed a number of questions composed of both facts and myths about the most common types of mental disorder, and the respondents were to indicate if they agreed. Among these were statements such as “depression is the same as being sad” and “everyone can be a little bit OCD sometimes.” The results were disheartening, to say the least. More than half of the respondents agreed with the myths, even the ones who had rated themselves with a high awareness level on the subject. This alone says plenty.
Mental health is a critical issue that has been swept under the rug for decades. The director of mental health and substance abuse at the World Health Organization states: “When it comes to mental health, all countries are developing countries.” It was only recently that the proposed Philippine Mental Health Law was passed by the Senate. People don’t discuss mental health in the open. Yet when it is brought up, the discussion often reeks of stigma, discrimination and misconceptions.
While there are countless ways to shed light on the taboo topic of mental disorders, I believe that the first step in raising awareness is to curtail the perpetuation of ignorance through the small shift in our choice of words. Through this, we stop subjecting the disorders to stereotypes. Indeed, how are we to hear others speak out if we are too busy drowning out their struggles with our own thoughtless remarks? The least we can do is to stop using mental disorders as adjectives. To continue to do so is to embrace ignorance and indifference.
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Micah Avry Guiao, 17, is an incoming freshman in creative writing at Ateneo de Manila University. She says she “longs to live in a world where mental health is taken seriously.”
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