In a few days, it will be May, Mental Health Month….and it hardly seems we need it anymore. Various mental health issues are discussed openly, written about online, and portrayed in the arts. The rarest and the most common mental health issues are favorite topics, and we especially love to borrow terms from the diagnosis and treatment of those health issues, and use them to mean whatever we want. Here are just a few of the most commonly misused mental health terms.
OCD: “I wanted to just leave the books on the table, but my OCD wouldn’t allow it,” we might say, or “I have OCD about getting the dishes done instead of leaving them in the sink.” Statements like this don’t mean any harm or ill will, they are just inaccurate. What you are describing here is a perfectly normal dislike of clutter or dirty kitchens. “OCD” actually refers to “Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder,” a mental health issue characterized by obsessions, such as fears or urges the person must fight to control, and compulsive behaviors. A person with OCD might indeed be distraught by a discarded pile of books or a sink full of dishes, but it wouldn’t be a simple irritation and urge to clean things up. A person with true OCD would experience deep distress over fears of germs or the urge to arrange things in a certain way.
Depression: Depression is a mental illness characterized by intense feelings of sadness, loss of interest in things the person once enjoyed, fatigue, feelings of hopelessness, physical pains that cannot be explained by another illness, difficulty sleeping or oversleeping, loss of appetite or the urge to overeat, and difficulty concentrating. The symptoms last for at least two weeks, and cause a discernible disruption in the person’s life. In common speech, we use “depression” to describe ordinary feelings of sadness, guilt, or fatigue that are actually direct responses to instances that arise in our life.
Triggered/Triggering: The true meaning of the word “trigger” in mental health care is when someone with PTSD experiences something that launches their mind into a flashback of the traumatic event they experienced. If someone has PTSD from being attacked in a parking garage, and their mind causes them to relive the trauma every time they enter a structure similar to a parking garage, that is a “trigger” for the person. In contemporary popular speech, people use “triggered/triggering/trigger” to refer to absolutely anything that bothers them in any way. We say we’re “triggered” if something irritates, angers, saddens, sickens, or otherwise distresses us for any reason. Many people have unfortunately taken this one step further, and use the word as a power grab. When someone claims to be “triggered,” everyone else is immediately expected to alter their speech and behavior to please that person.
Psychopath: Most of us have the idea that a psychopath is someone who is out of touch with reality, but that actually describes “psychosis” or the state of being “psychotic.” A psychopath is a person who lacks all empathy for other people. They are unable to love people as most of us do, and can only experience shallow feelings for others, as one might have for a favorite item of clothing or piece of equipment they use often. Psychopaths do not feel shame, remorse, or guilt, even in situations when those feelings would be warranted. They are, however, typically highly skilled at reading people and faking genuine emotions for others. Most are charming, personable, and persuasive. While we tend to say someone is “psycho” or “a psychopath” when they do something shockingly vile and disturbing, most psychopaths are not violent. They don’t value human life and dignity, they just don’t want to risk the punishment if they get caught, or find the aftermath of violence unpleasant on a personal level. Most psychopaths are actually perfectly suited to work in corporate America. They can make decisions that generate cash for the company without regard for the impact those decisions might have on people.
Dissociative Identity Disorder: (often called DID, or Multiple personality disorder, or “having alters” in common speech): While this disorder is listed in the latest Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, the book used to classify mental illnesses, there is much argument among mental health professionals as to whether this disorder actually exists, and if it does, whether it is created by unethical or incompetent therapists rather than a true response to extreme distress. .The trauma necessary to create it is certainly real, and it is definitely possible for the mind to split to protect itself, but how and whether or not true separate personalities form from this is debated. For the purpose of this article, we are going to assume that it is a real disorder, including the formation of distinct identities within one person. And those distinct identities would need to be there…along with a certain number of other symptoms, for the diagnosis to be made by a professional. Somebody who goes on YouTube claiming they “have alters” or “know they have DID” because they sometimes like to eat foods they usually don’t choose, like to switch up their clothing style from time to time, or felt more sensitive or easily irritated recently is jumping on a bandwagon for clicks and views, not describing a genuine struggle with a mental disorder.
In our art, we can use misdiagnosed, misunderstood, or misused terms from mental health to further the plot or aid in character development. A character who insists they’re “OCD” when they’re just irritated by clutter, someone who confuses ordinary sadness with depression until they meet genuinely depressed people, or a psychopath who has everyone fooled but reveals himself in the narration of the story would all work well in a piece of creative writing. Off the page, when we are dealing with the genuine health issues faced by actual people, much more care and caution should be taken. If you suspect that you are dealing with any mental health issue, whether it be one listed in this article or something else, do not attempt to diagnose and treat yourself. Contact a licensed, professional mental health care provider as soon as possible.
Author’s note: This article is the first in our special series on mental health for May. These articles are intended to generate ideas for art work, clarify some misunderstood terms often found in writing and other art forms, and encourage artists to tend to their own mental health and support the mental health of others. They are NOT intended to diagnose or treat any condition, or to stand in for any form of mental health care. I am not a mental health professional on any level. Anyone who believes they may have mental health issues, or that the mental health issues of someone else are impacting their lives is strongly encouraged to reach out to a licensed mental health provider, or speak to a trusted doctor, nurse, or pastor as soon as possible.
by Jess Szabo originally published on Artist Cafe Utica www.artistcafeutica.com