Mental health has always been fertile ground for cruel humor, but while mental health memes may be all over the internet, mental health is nothing to joke about and neither are mental disorders. They can be devastating, blighting lives and ruining futures. They’re also far from rare. Psychological disorders are common in the US, affecting over 55 million adults and nearly 8 million adolescents and children under 17.
Yet less than half of all people with a diagnosable mental health issue get the help they need. In part, this is due to the stigma that still remains about mental illness. Although that stigma has lessened over the last few decades, it’s still potent enough to deter people from getting the help they need.
This stigma is in part sustained by the use of mental illness as fodder for jokes, which perpetuates prejudice against people who have these issues. Mental health is also trivialized by daily slang and poor use of language that associates minor conditions with mental illness.
What is Mental Illness?
Mental illness is a condition that impairs the way people behave, think, and experience emotions. It is a medical disorder that develops from irregularities in the way nerves in the brain communicate with each other. There are many types of mental illness, but the most common broad categories include anxiety disorders, depression and its related disorders, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and eating disorders, such as anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa.
Language Affects How We Think About Mental Health
The way we use language does more than allow us to communicate. Language shapes the way we think and thus has a controlling effect on behavior. When we use slangy, joking speech to discuss something that’s serious, we run the risk of demeaning the subject or minimizing the very real problems it causes. The harm is made far worse when people who aren’t affected by mental health conditions use humor to demean those who must struggle with such disorders daily.
Making jokes about mental health doesn’t make people feel more comfortable about it. It doesn’t open the door for earnest conversation and communication about the problems people have. Joking about mental health leads to making people feel worse and more alone.
Even when no cruelty is intended, humor is profoundly subjective and can easily be taken the wrong way, especially when it’s on a topic people have no control over.
The following are typical ways people joke about mental health or diminish its impact.
Using Mental Health Terms for Casual References
Mental health terms, such as the names of pathologies and illnesses, get much too overused in our day to day lives. When people say things like “I’m so OCD,” which is a common throwaway phrase to describe a preference for neatness, they equate the real disorder with a mere behavioral habit. Unless a person has overwhelming anxiety that can’t be controlled except by carrying out ritualized and harmful behavior, they’re not burdened with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. OCD is a devastating mental health condition that can’t be controlled without professional mental health assistance.
Other examples include using mental health diagnoses as insults for people we don’t like or disagree with, such as “That politician is psychotic,” or “My boss is a schizo.”
Using these kinds of careless phrases demeans people with real mental health problems and trivializes the disorder by comparing it to a behavioral quirk.
Labeling Someone Based on Their Mental Health Condition
When we refer to someone as “a bipolar,” or “a schizophrenic,” we place the illness first and the individual second. The whole person is dehumanized and becomes nothing more than their illness. A mental illness is only one part of a person, and it’s not the largest aspect. A better way to speak is to put the person first by saying “an individual with schizophrenia,” or “a person with bipolar disorder.”
Engaging in Stereotypes About Mental Health
People with psychological conditions are portrayed in the media as wild-eyed eccentrics who are scary, dangerous, even violent. Disorders like schizophrenia and Dissociative-Personality Disorder are greatly distorted for the sake of drama on TV and in movies, while the reality is actually very different.
If you’ve struggled with mental health and are looking for a brighter mood, consider treatment at NeuroSpa TMS. Since 2008, transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) has been approved by the FDA as a non-invasive treatment for depression, certain anxiety disorders such as OCD, and other mental health conditions.
TMS uses a powerful and precise magnetic field to gently stimulate areas of the brain that regulate mood. It’s a medication-free approach to treatment for depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and other psychological disorders.
NeuroSpa also offers TMS PlusTM Therapy, which includes traditional TMS Therapy, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Nutritional Counseling, Blood Work, Sleep Evaluation and Functional MRI Targeting.
This blog post is meant to be educational in nature and does not replace the advice of a medical professional. See full disclaimer.
Corrigan, P. W., & Watson, A. C. (2002). Understanding the impact of stigma on people with mental illness. World psychiatry : official journal of the World Psychiatric Association (WPA), 1(1), 16–20.
Depression statistics. (2019, July 12). Retrieved March 29, 2021, from https://www.dbsalliance.org/education/depression/statistics/
Mental health by the numbers. NAMI. (n.d.). Retrieved October 2, 2021, from https://www.nami.org/mhstats
Whitney DG, Peterson MD. US National and State-Level Prevalence of Mental Health Disorders and Disparities of Mental Health Care Use in Children. JAMA Pediatr. 2019;173(4):389–391. doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2018.5399
Rose, D., Thornicroft, G., Pinfold, V., & Kassam, A. (2007). 250 labels used to stigmatise people with mental illness. BMC health services research, 7, 97. https://doi.org/10.1186/1472-6963-7-97