The Wrong Way To Talk About Mental Health

This opinion piece discusses the common occurrence of trivialising mental health disorders.

It was while shopping at IKEA for a new bedroom set that I came close to causing a scene by yelling at my sister. She was admiring a display room with quite a minimalist aesthetic and said, “I wish I was OCD enough to have an open wardrobe.”

Now my sister is not particularly good at being politically correct in general, but some days it bothers me more than others. My longwinded explanation of how being organised and having a diagnosed mental disorder are significantly different probably fell on deaf ears. But this incident was hardly the first time I noticed this kind of blasé attitude towards mental health conditions coming up in everyday conversations.

It seems nowadays people treat medical diagnoses as a go-to excuse for any kind of drama in their lives. A bit nervous about an oral presentation? No, you’re probably not having an anxiety induced panic attack. Feeling a bit low because Netflix cancelled your favourite show? Doesn’t make you clinically depressed. Can’t keep up with your girlfriend’s mood swings? It’s unlikely she is actually schizophrenic as you so claim. And no, keeping your bedroom tidy does not automatically mean you should be diagnosed with obsessive compulsive disorder.

Trivialising these serious mental health conditions is about more than just using terminology correctly. It inadvertently affects people’s attitudes towards mental health. Yes, organisations like beyondblue, headspace, and the Black Dog Institute all encourage the widespread discussion of mental health issues to try and remove the stigma surrounding them, but this is not what they mean when they ask you to start talking openly about the topic.

For young people especially, hearing these terms being carelessly thrown around in conversation can impact how they deal with their own mental health. According to research conducted by beyondblue, 80 per cent of Australian teenagers believe their peers will not seek support for mental health issues because they are worried what others will think of them. Considering more than a quarter of young Australians currently have a diagnosable mental health disorder, anything that discourages them from getting the help they need should be a major concern for our community.

We should be addressing mental health in an honest and informative manner. The amount of resources now available online makes educating yourself a fairly simple task. A quick Google search doesn’t take much effort and often provides you with more results than you could ever hope to get through. A recent study from headspace has just added to the deluge of information, discussing the link between mental health and youth unemployment. This connection works both ways with unemployment contributing to people’s poor mental health, while those with existing mental health conditions are more vulnerable to becoming disengaged with education and employment. Any effort to erase the misconceptions and fears associated with getting help for mental health issues potentially saves lives and can be done simply by opening a dialogue with young Australians.

It doesn’t take much to respect and acknowledge the seriousness of mental health conditions. My sister may have been embarrassed by my impromptu lecture in the middle of IKEA but at least she’ll think twice before saying something similar again. We need to encourage those who are struggling to reach out, not disregard their mental ill-health as something trivial. No one should be afraid to ask for help, especially young people who have so much to look forward to in their future.

Written by Dante DeBono

Photography by Poppy Fitzpatrick

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