All the time, I hear people say:
“Oh, I have reality show ADD.”
“I’ve been so OCD about this project.”
“I feel so bipolar this week!”
“The Falcons are schizophrenic on the field today.”
“Ugh. I’m so depressed. I need some prozac.”
NO ONE ever says:
“I’m kinda autistic sometimes.”
What’s up with that?
As a parent of a child with special needs (that’s her in the picture!) and as someone who works within the special needs community, I am constantly annoyed when people make light of mental illnesses and disabilities. ADHD, depression, OCD, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia are all REAL and significantly impact the lives of people who have these diagnoses (and those who go undiagnosed). It isn’t funny to me when people throw around these terms to describe behavior or feelings that fall in the average range of the bell curve. On top of that, it hit me that no one ever throws around the word “autism” that way. Frankly, this irritated me further. Why are certain disabilities taken more seriously than others?
I mentioned this to a friend of mine, whose child is on the spectrum, and she came back with an attitude I didn’t expect. Her thought– wouldn’t it be great if autism weren’t so stigmatized that the word could and would be used by the general population? Isn’t that what people with disabilities or mental illnesses want? To be normalized? I agree that it would be nice if the statement “my _____ has autism” wasn’t followed with the typical reaction of “I’m so sorry”, as if the disorder carries with it a certain bleak future. Perhaps that’s exactly what’s happened with ADHD, bipolar disorder, etc. The public has decided these issues don’t carry with them a death sentence– and so, sure, it’s ok to use those words irreverently.
So, now I am stumped.
In my great desire to destigmatize mental illness and disabilities, should I be grateful for the casual use of these words? Or should I continue as usual, educating others when I hear them refer to needing to be less OCD, ADD, or bipolar? I still feel like these are issues to be taken seriously– but I definitely don’t think they should be seen as tragedies.
What do you think?