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Emelia on the Brain: Common Phrases That Stigmatize Mental Illness

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Lasell chapter.

Welcome to another installment of Emelia on the Brain, where Emelia talks about topics in mental health that we all should be talking about. 

Mental health is heavily stigmatized in American society. There have been efforts in recent years to soften the stigma, but there is still a general lack of awareness and empathy for those struggling with mental illness. 

Whether you realize it or not, you probably use multiple words or phrases in your regular vocabulary that further promote that stigmatization of mental illness. 

Here is a comprehensive list of the common words and phrases that promote the stigma:


1. “This makes me want to kill myself.”

This phrase carries a lot of weight and is unfortunately misused so often. Most people who have not struggled with suicidal thoughts or have not lost someone to suicide have the tendency to say this phrase when something inconvenient happens. When someone takes their life, they want to free themselves of the pain that they are in. Their decision usually comes after carrying their pain for so long: it does not come from temporary frustration or inconvenience. 

2. “I am so OCD.”

This is a super common one as people use it to describe those that are “Type A” or the type of people who love to keep their lives neat and organized. OCD or Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is an extremely debilitating mental illness. Those that struggle with OCD have unwanted thoughts and obsessions or the urge to keep repeating an activity over and over again. By using OCD to describe simple habits in everyday life, it makes the real illness sound less serious. The common usage of this word can also make it easy to brush off someone who is actually struggling with OCD and can make it more difficult for them to receive treatment. 

3. “I am so addicted to this show/food/etc.” 

Comparing your favorite food or tv show that you cannot seem to put down to addiction is another unfortunately common term. In reality, you can choose to stop watching a tv show or eating a certain food to attend to your life. People who actually struggle with addiction, whether that be with substances or non-substances, find themselves in a place where it has destroyed their lives and relationships with others. The brains of addicts become dependent on the addiction, and in most cases, it can only be resolved with intensive treatment. Making this comparison inappropriately can take away from the true seriousness of the word and the real problems that addictions cause. 

4. “My ex/friend/etc is so psycho.”

The term “psycho” references psychosis, which is one of the lesser-known mental illnesses. Psychosis is a very serious condition where an individual loses touch with reality and experiences hallucinations and delusions. Temporary states of psychosis are also seen in Bipolar disorder. The word “psycho” is used loosely when someone (usually an ex s/o or friend) is acting irrationally or erratically. It minimizes psychosis and other psychotic disorders. The incorrectly used term also makes those suffering from the disorder sound like they are bad people and do not deserve respect: those suffering from psychosis cannot control their condition and deserve compassion. 


It is likely that we are all guilty of most of these. Words hold so much power. With careful word choice in the future, we can help end the stigma surrounding mental illness and promote education and compassion around the actual illnesses.

Emelia Mulligan is a freshman at Lasell University studying Criminal Justice and playing field hockey. When she's not studying or practicing, she is either online shopping, watching reality tv, or listening to r&b. She has a passion for mental health awareness and is pursuing addiction recovery for a future career. Find her on social media linked below.