Mental Health Diagnoses as Adjectives…Don’t Do It

By: Ally Fleming, Social Work & Art Therapy / Concentration in Crisis and Trauma


Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is a common, chronic illness in which a person has uncontrollable, recurring thoughts (obsessions) and behaviors (compulsions) that a person is urged to repeat over and over (National Institute of Mental Health).

By describing the self as “OCD,” when something needs to be done a certain way, discredits the struggle each individual diagnosed with OCD faces everyday. OCD is not something to glamorize or romanticize. OCD should not be the “go to” adjective when a person feels the need to keep their life organized.


Other ways to say “I’m OCD when it comes to ______”:


  • “I really like to keep my desk organized.”
  • “If I don’t write this down in my planner, I’ll forget about it.”
  • “I need to clean up after myself, so I can relax and not worry about it later.”
  • “I like to keep my room clean.”


OCD is not the only mental health diagnosis used as an adjective, when it comes to certain behaviors. Bipolar Disorder gets thrown around without realization of how the disorder negatively affects people. Bipolar Disorder is a manic-depressive illness; a brain disorder that causes unusual shifts in mood, energy, activity levels, and the ability to carry out day-to-day tasks (National Institute of Mental Health).

When someone uses “Bipolar” to describe a person, it is usually in reference to drastic change in mood. However, Bipolar Disorder is characterized by long periods of manic episodes, not quick changing moodiness.  Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder in manic episodes can last between two weeks, to two years.

Much like OCD, Bipolar Disorder is a mental health illness that people struggle with everyday. Romanticizing these labels or diagnoses discredits their impact on people, and pushes mental illness farther into the stigma, that it’s “no big deal.”  Normalizing these terms lessens the need to research and find effective treatments for those actually struggling.

We are taught adjectives in English classes for a reason. Much like how the “R” word is no longer proper vernacular when referring to someone with learning disabilities, mental illnesses are not describing words. They are illnesses people fight with everyday; it’s not just being sad one minute and happy the next, or wanting to be organized. Be aware.
For more information, feel free to visit the National Institute of Mental Health website or the National Alliance of Mental Illness.



Photograph: http://ocd-is-not-a-joke.tumblr.com/image/70902651512

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