Slepian Smith, PLLC

How casual references can minimize serious conditions

We have probably all heard people say something like they were depressed because their favorite TV show ended or that a work project left them so confused they felt like they were having a stroke. Maybe it was a friend describing his or her own appreciation for neatness as being obsessive-compulsive disorder.

While people might think these casual references to actual, serious medical conditions are harmless, the fact is that they can make sufferers of the actual conditions upset and misguided about their own health.

Common conditions misused

For instance, mental disorders like bipolar disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder and depression often take an immense toll on sufferers' lives when they are experiencing symptoms. They can have trouble leaving the house; they may engage in dangerous behaviors; they might consider suicide.

Another example could be someone describing a normal reaction to stress as a panic attack. However, as the Anxiety and Depression Association of America describes, people who suffer actual panic attacks often feel incredible fear and anxiety, as well as physical symptoms like heart palpitations and difficulty breathing. The episodes are often intense and can last for more than 10 minutes.

Why these casual references matter

While it might seem harmless to use illnesses as descriptors for isolated incidents or personal traits or habits, the fact is that doing so can undercut those suffering from diagnosable conditions. A condition can be used as a negative descriptor rather than a serious illness; it can also reinforce stigmas that these conditions often carry.

Further, it can make these conditions seem less severe than they often are. Instead of people understanding them as potentially disabling conditions that change sufferers' lives, they might dismiss them as minor inconveniences that people should be able to overcome. Not only does this perpetuate a cycle of misinformation, it can cause a person experiencing symptoms to put off getting needed medical attention.

When it comes to serious medical conditions, the words we use matter. Understanding that can improve everyone's understanding of these illnesses and make it easier for sufferers to get the help and support they need.

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