In our highly expressive world of language and lingo, it is all too easy to drop common phrases and not realize the terrible weight of them. We all understand that some words should never be spoken. On the flip side, we have words that are coming to light as stigma slowly breaks down. Mental health is now becoming public, though progress may seem small to sufferers. In general, it has become okay to talk about depression and anxiety. These conditions should not be new or unknown to most people. In talking about the battles many people endure with these conditions, our society has appropriated the right to talk about mental health and turned it into something insensitive and dangerous.

Throwing the word “bipolar” at people in aggression and frustration has become normal. We blame normal mood swings on having bipolar disorder while we know nothing other than the highly publicized version of the condition. Having a bipolar disorder does not mean having a great day, being upset the next and fine the following; this is too sped-up for the clinical definition. Beyond misrepresenting the condition, we are also featuring bipolar disordered individuals as something undesirable. What do we truly mean, using “bipolar” as an insult? What does that say about our society’s viewpoint on those struggling with mental health?

This is only one example of taking a serious affliction and making it dirty to use against someone who upset you. We use “psycho” and “crazy” in the same way. There are people who are clinically psychotic, and we cram them into a villainous mold just so that we can put someone down. We are never just affecting the person we are accusing; we are damaging a whole community.

“I’m so depressed today” may slip out before you can fully think about it. Acknowledging when we are struggling is essential to protecting our mental health. There is nothing wrong in finding ourselves slipping. But in the face of a rough patch, we cannot claim to be depressed just in that moment. We care too much about image and being unaffected by real issues that, when we do hit a bump in the road, we try pushing it off as something bigger. We want the protection of having something really wrong; we don’t want to admit that living is a constant of ups and downs. The stigma of talking about mental health may be breaking down, but it is also evolving.

Even if you are not clinically depressed, your struggles are valid. There is no rule that only people with a diagnosis of mental illness may have difficulties. The University of Maine campus offers help to all students — they do not check that students have Illness A, B or C before giving assistance. The Mind Spa and the counseling center are open to every student, no matter how small their problem may seem. We need to change how we discuss mental illness. It is not an insult or a way to tell someone we are having a horrible day. Mental illnesses are not buzz words to make declarations of being sad feel more valid. If you feel that something may be seriously wrong, seek help. If not, treat mental illness with the respect it deserves and stop using it for your own fleeting benefit.

  • Harold A. Maio

    Discuss mental illness with due respect:

    —On the flip side, we have words that are coming to light as stigma slowly breaks down.

    Please explain to me how chorusing “a stigma” relates to discussing mental illness with due respect.

    —In our highly expressive world of language and lingo, it is all too easy to drop common phrases and not realize the terrible weight of them.

    Yes, you illustrate how all too easy that is, when you asserted the above prejudice. The terrible weight of that term fell on generations of women as rape/stigma.

    Please do not proffer it again.

    Harold A. Maio, retired mental health editor