When I was a child, I was “solemn.” When I was a teenager, I was “temperamental.” After my second year of university, I was diagnosed with depression.
Using coded language to discuss mental illness does more harm than good. Initially, it may have been a comfort for those around me to use vague and inoffensive language to lighten the tone of a weighty subject — but lightening it doesn’t do it justice.
By actively refusing to name my mental illness, it restricted my understanding of what it was and subsequently of how to treat it.
I’d been struggling with an inexplicable part of my identity for years. Even a year before my diagnosis, I was deflecting the severity of my illness by telling people I was “slumped,” “drained” or “in a funk.”
These words made it seem like I was experiencing something at odds with who I normally am — like this was a temporary period I was eventually going to pass.
It’s hard to shake the mould that we expect, and often force, mental illness to fit into, but mental illness expresses itself differently for different people. Using pre-set, coded language to talk about it ignores the personal nature of mental illness — it’s incredibly reductive and damaging.
There’s a power in reclaiming and identifying something that is both a pathological illness and an element of someone’s identity.
By willfully addressing my mental illness with a name, I eradicated a bit of the shame attached to something I’d thought other people could easily deal with.
When students approach mental illness in their peers, we often feel compelled to use words that sound less severe. Facing it head-on makes us uneasy and we wish to appear sensitive.
But mental illness isn’t shameful or a secret, especially when one in three Canadians will inevitably experience it at some point in their life.
We continue to propagate the stigmatization of mental illness when we’re unwilling to use the vocabulary that effectively describes it.
I’m more than my brain’s pathology, but it’s still a part of who I am. The inability to address it for what it is dismisses an aspect of myself. It proves an unwillingness to engage with someone who doesn’t exist in comfortable absolutes.
It’s hard to break our patterns and confronting the truth isn’t easy, but ultimately the benefits of calling mental illness what it is outweigh the risk of feeling momentarily uncomfortable.
Ghazal is The Journal’s Video Editor. She’s a fourth-year English student.
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