Trivialising Mental Health Issues

By Rohang Mishal

Lately I’ve noticed that people often say things like “that Instagram post is triggering my OCD” or deploy heavy words like depression and anxiety without really understanding the gravity of the medical conditions both words signify.

While we’ve been working to normalise the existence of mental disorders, being open about them online has led to another phenomenon – we’ve started using mental disorders as mere adjectives, trivialising these conditions instead of normalising them.

The World Health Organisation defines mental disorders so: “Mental disorders comprise a broad range of problems, with different symptoms. However, they are generally characterised by some combination of abnormal thoughts, emotions, behaviour, and relationships with others. Examples are schizophrenia, depression, intellectual disabilities and disorders due to drug abuse. Most of these disorders can be successfully treated.”

In a culture where it’s easy to post and delete on a whim, people don’t often take the documentation of their emotions or lives seriously, resulting in them neglecting the subtler aggressions or dismissals inherent in some of their actions.

A quick scroll through my Instagram shows me people – friends and influencers alike – using mental disorders in flippant ways. There’s a fine line between normalising something that is usually stigmatised and just trivialising it. Words like ‘depression’, ‘anxiety’ and ‘OCD’ aren’t just punchlines for self-deprecative jokes or excuses for poor behaviour – they’re real health issues that people struggle with on a daily basis.

Part of the problem is that diagnoses can be complicated and it can take someone years and vast amounts of money to get diagnosed correctly. In the absence of nuanced conversation about mental health, we turn to checklists which list symptoms but without context or the deeper knowledge of a medical professional.  Experiencing fatigue, sadness, mood swings is real and can be part of clinical depression, anxiety or a mood disorder, but the magnitude and gravity of each situation is different and never something to use lightly.

However, looking at some Instagram posts it feels like several people use these serious conditions to gain Instagram brownie points, adopting mental health issues as if it’s a “cool” thing to have without a second thought to the wider implications of their actions.

These disorders have the capacity to wreak havoc in entire families, derail careers, ruin friendships. The chills that wrack your body and the intense nausea that overrides any other thought or sensation, refusing to subside; that anxious feeling that overwhelms you, leaving you incapable of doing anything but cracking your knuckles harder or scratching your feet with increasing intensity till they bruise – that’s an anxiety attack. There are obviously degrees and it doesn’t mean you don’t have anxiety if you haven’t experience what I just described – but there’s a lot more to anxiety than simply feeling nervous or afraid at one point in time.

The next time you or someone you know says something along the lines of “this Insta is triggering my OCD“, remember that artistic and aesthetic preferences and being obsessive compulsive are two different things. Your preference for a particular form of design, art or an aesthetic pleasure cannot be classified as a disorder and doesn’t give you the right to self-diagnose and fraudulently victimise yourself with OCD.

It’s not okay to trivialise medical conditions. By doing so you risk stripping these conditions of the seriousness that they actually warrant, undermining efforts to de-stigmatise these conditions and enable more open, serious conversations about mental health.

Social stigma against mental disorders still thrives and openly – and must be confronted and subverted in any way possible, including people refusing to be shamed into silence. According to the WHO, one in four people suffer from mental disorders worldwide, and most go undetected because two-thirds of those affected never report their condition or symptoms because of the stigma attached to them.

Approximately 800,000 people die due to suicide every year. And if that doesn’t rattle your conscience, then I do not know what will. The next time you want to describe yourself as depressed or tell someone you have anxiety or are having a panic attack, think of the weight of those words and your motives for using it – and make sure that you’re not just adopting words that you don’t really understand.

 

Rohang Mishl is a Postcards For Peace Ambassador, living in India.