Is That Really the Word You're Looking For?

Do you ever have one of those days? You know, when nothing seems to go your way and you're kind of wiped out and a little down when you get home? Your friends ask you how you've been and you tell them you're "super depressed" because your day's been so sucky. Freeze frame: there's a problem. It's your word choice. I won't lie and say that I've never done the same thing, and it's become a really big problem.  

All clichés aside, life has been a journey, and my anxiety has been with me for just about every single step of it. Life is great. Anxiety? Not so much. So, I'll be honest here too: nothing bothers me more than hearing people use "anxiety" as a synonym for "nervous" or "stressed." Trust me: as a college student, stress isn't a stranger. It's also completely different from anxiety, I promise you. Anxiety is a hysterical breakdown at 2:00 a.m. after finishing my organic chemistry homework; anxiety is accidentally ripping off three of my fingernails in a panic after missing the bus. Anxiety is, and never will be, a synonym for stress.  

Mental health and disorders often seem to be the butt of some joke. We see comedians and TV shows compare people with ADHD to a dog being distracted by a squirrel. People pretend to have imaginary friends and try to equate this to schizophrenia. My sense of humor may be bizarre, but I definitely can't be the only one who doesn't think this kind of stuff is funny.  

Terms like depressed, bipolar, ADHD, OCD, are not just colorful adjectives. When we use these words in place of feelings, we trivialize what they actually are. Someone who has depression knows it is not a temporary feeling. Sad and depressed are not on the same spectrum – they are completely different entities. You are not depressed; you are sad. You are not bipolar because you changed your mind about where to go for dinner three times. You are not OCD because you are tidy or organized. People often justify themselves by saying things like, "Well, I'm not just organized, I'm super organized," or, "But I'm actually freaking out right now, why isn't it the same?" To be frank, they're just not. You could have six exams and a paper due and be intensely stressed. I get that. What you need to understand is that while your stress may go away, my anxiety will not. When the semester ends and you are stress-free, I will still have anxiety. And let's be honest: equating your temporary state of being to someone else's mental health seems a little insensitive, don't you think?  

We have a tendency of overlooking mental health, as if it is less important or less serious than our physical health. According to MentalHealth.gov, in 2014, one in 25 Americans lived with a serious mental illness." We need to start doing better, and we can start with our words. Regardless of what everyone says, I genuinely think that we as a society have become so much more understanding and open-minded over the years. Let's keep it up; let's keep it going.