Mental Health Week

We’ve all heard it, or maybe even said it ourselves before. Something along the lines of – “I’m so OCD” because you like the lounge kept tidy. Or, “you know, I’m just a bit ADD”. Um, sorry, I’m not entirely sure someone can be “just a bit” ADD. In my experience, a person either has ADD, or they don’t. And even in a milder form – “I’m so depressed right now”, when one is feeling a bit sad, or “I almost had a panic attack” when you had a sudden fright. These little throwaway comments are innocuous enough, right? Maybe. Maybe not. Probably not for the person who genuinely feels compelled to enter and exit a room thirty times to “prevent” something going wrong that day, or who gets stuck in some form of ritual they feel unable to break. Most likely not for the lad or lass who constantly got in trouble at school because the need to keep moving was as strong as an urge to scratch an itch, or who missed most of what the teacher said as they were inattentively daydreaming out the window. Perhaps the person who plasters on a functioning smile but feels no real sense of joy or purpose or reason for being laughs along at the “bit depressed” comment, whilst secretly thinking, “you and me both. But really, just me.” And if you’ve ever experienced a panic attack, it’s not something that “almost” happens – it damn near blindsides you up side of the head, and it takes some real time and attention to learn how to avoid, or minimise, having them.

Although it may seem a bit heavy bringing this topic up, and pardon me for being quite so darn PC, but I can’t help wondering if this diluting of terms has gone a long way in perpetuating common misconceptions of what these mental health issues actually look like. Granted, most folks these days probably have a pretty fair understanding of what true depression and anxiety disorders may look like due to some fairly decent press coverage. But what about their often comorbid cousins, such as OCD and ADD (or ADHD as it is now known as; most likely adding to the confusion people already had over what it actually really is). OCD is often thought of as “that handwashing thing”, whereas only a percentage of those who live with OCD will also be germaphobes. And not all people with ADHD actually have hyperactivity (which is what make the new, all-encompassing ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) a bit of a misnomer. Some are impulsive, or inattentive).

Having experienced or witnessed some or all of these up close and personal, I know they’re no laughing matter. I also know I myself have most likely used such phrases myself – till I stopped to really think about it. We pay lip service to Mental Health, encouraging others to talk about it. But sometimes it’s really, really hard to do so. I’ve had people say to me, in response to finding out I have ADD (as did their wife), “Oh there goes the neighbourhood – hahahaha.” He was the only one laughing. I’ve witnessed the embarrassment of someone caught in a dark cycle of obsession and compulsion, their behaviour completely asocial and basically “weird” looking to those who might not understand what is going on. When I had mild OCD as a teen, I used to create elaborate lies to cover what I was doing – “I just need to pop back inside as I think I forgot something,” whereas I felt compelled to return inside for no sane or logical reason other than I strongly felt something terrible would happen if I didn’t. And if you know me, you know my house is ridiculously untidy, so that should debunk the “tidy house-have OCD” theory right there!

I know and understand what people mean when they say these quirky little sayings. I know their hearts, and they mean nothing by them. I know that. But it still bugs the living bahooey out of me. So, I’m just asking – myself included – that maybe, just perhaps, we could use the correct terms for the correct issues. That’s what I’d like to put forward this Mental Health Week. Please. And thank you x