To the extent that this further reduces mental health stigma and helps people find the care they need, it’s welcome news. If a label makes people feel less alone — or even happy to have a name to ease their discomfort and a community to identify with, as actress Rachel Bloom sings in a musical number about her character who is a diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder from the TV comedy “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” – that’s positive too.
But there are also some serious downsides to fixating on these labels.
First, there is a flattening of people’s unique or individual experiences. Just about anything can – and often falls under – big umbrella terms like ‘trauma’, as Parul Sehgal recently wrote in The New Yorker. When we apply a category too broadly, it loses much of its meaning.
“Labeling a person with a diagnosis helps them better understand their situation and access the support services they need to function,” said Emily Johnson, a Colorado Springs physician who practices at a clinic for adults with cognitive impairment. disabilities. “On the other hand, labels can carry stigmas and be restrictive, unnecessarily limiting people to certain boxes.” And, she added, “if we were to label all those individuals, the label would no longer be useful.”
I’ve also found that when labels for mental and emotional health are used casually, all too often we end up romanticizing mental illness — which, like anyone who’s experienced it, is anything but romantic. In a 2018 essay in The Times, Rhiannon Picton-James wrote about $48 gold chains describing “anxiety” and “depression” in trendy cursive letters. “The problem with beautifying mental illness is how strange it is to reality,” she wrote. And she’s right: a necklace that honestly portrays these circumstances might instead represent a black hole that sucks the life out of you and disrupts everything you want to be there for. Not that pretty.
I am thankful that OCD was mentioned and well understood when I was first diagnosed. The research I did and the treatment I received helped me recover. OCD will always be a part of me, but today it’s much less central to how I define myself.
Five years ago, when people misused the term and even scornfully or humbly described themselves as “OCD” for having their pantry well organized, it made me extremely angry. I felt the term was mine, and I was personally offended. Now it doesn’t bother me at all though. Of course people misuse the term OCD; it is a commonly misunderstood condition. If this happens now, I try to teach if necessary, and then I go about my day.