How we Talk about Mental Health

A lot of people will tell you that mental health isn’t discussed enough. In my experience, that’s not quite true.

I remember sitting in a study room on campus while a guy talked about the exam he had coming up and joked that he should just kill himself to make things easier. A couple weeks ago, one of my best (and well-meaning) friends told me how “triggered” she was by a picture of one of our high school teachers. In my junior year of high school, the boy beside me in French class drew lines on his arm with a pencil and joked that he was cutting himself. These are the worst instances I can remember, but I know more and don’t even pick up on every one of them.

We talk about depression and anxiety and suicide a lot. But we do it in the absolute worst way.

We talk about depression and anxiety and suicide like this so much that there’s no room for a proper discussion. Mental health becomes so blasé that the words to describe it seem to lose their meaning. This is so ingrained in our culture now that we don’t even notice it happening. Songs with good, happy beats play at parties and the sad lyrics go over our heads. We talk about how depressing something is or how it gives us anxiety and it seems normal.

The thing is, a throwaway “ugh, I’m so depressed” because you have to miss a party or an “I’m so triggered” when you don’t like something seems inconsequential. But every time you say those words in that context you invalidate them and help chip away at their true meaning. By calling yourself depressed when you’re sad, you make it easier for someone to tell a person who actually is depressed that they’re just a little down. Every time you talk about how anxious you are when you’re a little nervous, you make it harder for people with anxiety disorders to be open about their struggles. And when you joke about killing yourself over an essay, you close channels of communication that could help save someone’s life.

Intentions, unfortunately, don’t matter here. The culture around mental health has become so divorced from the actual issues that it’s easy to make a joke about these things. What matters is whether we’re willing to think about the words we use to describe ourselves and our actions and whether we’re willing to change them.

Discussions about mental health are getting better. There are initiatives all over campus, many of them student-run or student-assisted, that offer support for those struggling. But we still have a lot of room for improvement.

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