Avoid Using Mental Illnesses as Adjectives

As usual, I’ve been hearing mental illnesses used as common adjectives–not out of spite, but out of ignorance. I’ve decided to list information on these illnesses, along with words that could be used instead of that illness in order to avoid trivialization or misunderstanding.

1. Depressed

What they think it is: having a bad day, stressed out, or bummed, i.e. “I couldn’t find my keys this morning and I ran out of coffee, so now I’m depressed.”
More accurate words to use:

  • down
  • unhappy
  • blue
  • sad
  • dispirited
  • disheartened
  • upset
  • miserable
  • gloomy
  • glum
  • dejected
  • down in the dumps
  • heavyhearted
  • discouraged
  • despondent
  • lethargic
  • dampened
  • having a hard day/week

What depression really is: http://www.psychiatry.org/depression

2. Bipolar

What they think it is: rapidly changing moods or characteristics, irrational or difficult, i.e. “This autumn weather sure is bipolar!” or “I’m always so bipolar on my period.”
More accurate words to use:

  • volatile
  • unstable
  • unpredictable
  • moody
  • sensitive
  • precarious
  • unsettled
  • vacillating
  • temperamental
  • irrational
  • difficult
  • wavering
  • fluctuating
  • erratic
  • uncertain

What bipolar disorder really is: http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/bipolar-disorder/index.shtml/

3. Panic attack

What they think it is: minor freak-out, i.e. “Whoa I thought the essay was due today, I just had a panic attack there!”
More accurate words to use:

  • flipped out
  • freaked out
  • had a fright
  • had a scare
  • unhinged
  • got flustered
  • bewildered
  • dismayed
  • confused
  • discombobulated (extra points if you use this one)
  • frustrated
  • surprised
  • disconcerted
  • rattled
  • shaken up
  • got thrown off

What panic attacks (and panic disorder) really are: http://www.helpguide.org/articles/anxiety/panic-attacks-and-panic-disorders.htm


What they think it is: having had a bad experience, i.e. “That was a tough class, I kind of have PTSD about it.” (I don’t hear this one as often but I wanted to address it anyway.)
More accurate words to use:

  • had a bad experience
  • had a bad encounter
  • bad incident
  • experienced conflict
  • experienced dissatisfaction
  • experienced frustration
  • bad run-in
  • had a hassle

What PTSD really is: http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/post-traumatic-stress-disorder-ptsd/index.shtml

5. Social anxiety

What they think it is: normal shyness, social awkwardness, i.e. “I have social anxiety around my crush.”
More accurate words to use:

  • shy
  • uncomfortable
  • jittery
  • awkward
  • fidgety
  • uneasy
  • uptight
  • self-conscious
  • strained
  • nervous
  • embarrassed

What social anxiety (disorder) really is: http://psychcentral.com/disorders/social-anxiety-disorder-social-phobia-symptoms/

6. Anorexia

What people think it is: being skinny, i.e. “All those cheerleaders look so anorexic!”
More accurate words to use (although hopefully you won’t insult people with these, but if you’re going to insult someone at least avoid using an actual illness):

  • thin
  • lean
  • narrow
  • slim
  • small
  • slender
  • scrawny
  • twiggy
  • stick-like
  • skinny
  • bony
  • lanky
  • skeletal
  • gaunt
  • emaciated
  • undernourished
  • shrunken
  • shriveled
  • deflated

What anorexia really is: http://psychcentral.com/disorders/anorexia-anorexia-nervosa-symptoms/

7. OCD

What people think it is: great need for order and/or cleanliness, controlling, fussy, i.e. “I’m really OCD about cleaning my pencil pouch.”
More accurate words to use:

  • orderly
  • precise
  • thorough
  • tidy
  • uniform
  • methodical
  • uncluttered
  • organized
  • neat freak
  • absolute
  • fastidious
  • nit picky
  • fussy
  • hypercritical
  • exacting
  • demanding
  • particular
  • a stickler
  • finicky
  • persnickety (please use this one, oh my gosh)
  • careful

What OCD really is: http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/obsessive-compulsive-disorder-ocd/index.shtml

Those are the most common ones I’ve heard, but there may be more. If you’d like me to create more lists for something not mentioned here, please let me know! Remember, there are lots of words out there, plenty more than I’ve included, so you shouldn’t have to use real, clinical diagnoses as adjectives. If you or someone you know has used these disorders as adjectives, please don’t be too hard on yourself/them. Most people do this because they just don’t know, and once they do know, they are perfectly okay with using different words.

This post has more information on many more mental illnesses not listed here.

xx Abigail


5 thoughts on “Avoid Using Mental Illnesses as Adjectives

  1. Pingback: For the Last Time: Mental Illnesses Are Not Adjectives | Let's Queer Things Up!

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