Misuse of Psychological Terminology

The casual use or misuse of psychiatric terminology across all demographics is an issue that calls for more attention on all sides.

3 min readAug 28, 2021


As soon as one begins to think about this statement, one is reminded of the multiple occurrences of this phenomenon. You hear terms like ‘depression’, ‘bipolar’ and ‘trauma’ thrown around with little regard for their actual implications, which often undermines these conditions and is an insensitive remark towards the people actually suffering from them.

The very first rebuttal that raising any concerns of this kind begets is that “Have humans become so sensitive and vulnerable that they get offended at unintended remarks of this sort?”, and rightfully so, especially if the remarks were indeed “unintended”. However, the greater moral responsibility of making our own words sensitive towards mental health conditions still stands.

The usage of terms like ‘depression’ to cover sadness of a very regular nature or ‘bipolar’ to define somebody having a change of mood is a gross miscalculation of symptoms that nobody except a professional is qualified to make in the first place.

Debunking some of the Myths

“You like your room organised and your DVDs alphabetised, you’re so OCD!”

If only it were as simple as that. OCD or Obsessive Compulsive Disorder ranges far further of “being organised” and is a serious condition that should not be undermined by using it to describe neatness. It is a mental illness that causes repeated unwanted thoughts or sensations (obsessions) or the urge to do something over and over again (compulsions). These misdiagnoses only contribute to furthering the stigma and air of misinformation around the disorder.

“My day has been too depressing.”

Confusing everyday sadness with the state of depression, intentionally or otherwise, as a hyperbole of emotions is an absolute no. This misuse leads to greater unawareness around the symptoms of depression and give it a characteristic casualness. Depression is a mental health disorder which causes persistently low moods or loss of interest in activities. Sadness is a natural human feeling while depression is not.

“God, she’s so moody, you’d think she was bipolar!”

Bipolar Disorder is associated with episode of mood swings ranging from depressive lows to manic highs. It is a mental health condition that affects 2.4% of adults all over the world. It is not the same as being moody. People who have bipolar disorder go through intense mood swings. Their feelings can be hard to control. Their moods change often and they can’t help it. Natural mood swings are not usually extreme and are triggered by specific circumstances. Don’t interchange the two.

“That roller coaster ride was traumatic!”

Similar to calling someone Bipolar or OCD, it appears the term trauma is becoming grossly overused to describe an experience that is better accounted for as something that is upsetting or distressing or even just negatively impactful. This draws a thin line between the issues of correctly labelling one’s trauma and wrongfully claiming the term. This misuse takes away from the understanding the nature of real trauma.

It is true that most of this mislabelling is unintentional and stems from an unawareness on the subject of these mental health conditions. The first step to prevent oneself from committing errors of this sort is to read up on relevant information on the topics. Learning is key to becoming more awareness and inclusive individuals, thereby creating a safe space for our friends and family to open up about their problems in order to assist them with it.

Keeping this in mind, identifying symptoms in your own selves and the ones around you is of paramount importance. However, this must be done without feelings of vendetta or negativity towards the person. As long as it comes from a place of genuine concern, talking to somebody about seeking help for anything they might be going through is a good move.

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