People seem hyper-aware of their feelings these days. The most attention that was paid to therapy in most of the 90s or early 2000s pop culture was mocking people who recognized they had mental health problems or reserved for people with extreme mental illness. Nowadays, mental health awareness has become so normalized that people are using special therapy speak to talk about daily life.
When someone is very organized, “They’re so OCD.” And when someone fails to concentrate a few times, “My ADHD is acting up today.” While the normalization of mental conditions is something to be applauded, when people use these conditions to characterize normal situations, it can reduce the impact of the words. Making them fail to be taken seriously as conditions by society at large. Many people also bandy around the terms trauma, toxicity, and narcissism. This legitimizes these characteristics, but they can also overblow or reduce serious issues. Mental Health: Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) Symptoms, Causes, And Treatment
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These are words frequently used by therapists. But other popular mental health terms aren’t part of the medical lexicon. Words like “gaslighting” weren’t created by psychiatrists. The word gaslighting is from a 1943 noir movie about a husband abusing his wife by making her believe reality is different from what she’s witnessing. In recent years, gaslighting has referred to a kind of lying where someone lies to manipulate the other into doubting their own reality.
Understanding mental health jargon
According to a report by the World Health Organisation, at least one in eight people live with a mental disorder. Mental disorders are clinically significant disturbances in thinking, emotional regulation, and behaviour. They are also known as mental health conditions or psychosocial disabilities.
The most common mental health conditions
Anxiety and depressive disorders are the most common mental health conditions. The COVID-19 pandemic greatly increased the number of people who have anxiety and depression. Current global issues, such as the rising cost of living, inflation, or job insecurity are also increasing mental health conditions among adults. There is a lot of stress among people from social issues. An analysis found that there is a 32% increased risk of early death among people who are lonely.
With many people now facing mental health conditions and many of them getting talk therapy treatment, it’s understandable that these words would make their way to everyday conversation. Pop culture is also using more therapy speak to talk about issues, trying to mimic how people talk in real life. Words like “triggered” are a staple in internet communications.
Therapy speak on social media
Younger social media users are more in touch with their feelings and willing to show their vulnerability. They post “self-care” days where they have mental “resets”. 5 Signs You Should Take A Mental Health Day
In addition, they also post videos where they purchase older juvenile toys in a bid to heal their “inner child”. They listen to nostalgic music to get rid of emotional repression. They read sad books to cry and “let go” on camera but they can also recognize gratuitous content and call it “trauma porn”.
Lifestyle influencers and vloggers are also very open when they have mental health conditions, including serious diagnosed conditions like bipolar II disorder. Content creators who have experienced trauma from their parents or abusive partners also share a lot of what they learn from therapy adding even more to therapy speak.
Mental health practitioners are also on social media to demystify mental health treatment. Some of them try to debunk a lot of misinformation and disinformation about mental health conditions. For instance, many certified psychiatrists cautioned viewers from self-diagnosing. Doctors warned viewers from legitimizing imitative dissociative identity disorder (DID) symptoms.
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When therapy speak can be useful
Therapy speak makes people navigate what they’re feeling and how they will deal with it. When they realize, they have a difficult relationship with food, they recognize that they may have disordered eating. Before getting a professional diagnosis, they will watch videos with people their own age who may be facing similar struggles. Certain words will jump out at them, “food triggers”, “body dysmorphia”, “ED”, and specific terms that map out the condition. This can help people know when to seek treatment and find support online.
Therapy speak can be useful for people to identify if they may have a condition that needs medical attention. It can reduce the stigma still associated with mental health treatment. But overuse of therapy speak can make it difficult to identify who is being truthful and those who are performing for clout.
When therapy speak becomes a problem
Weaponizing therapy speak
Many who are well versed in identifying triggers and red flags, are quick to notice when therapy speak is weaponized. People who have experienced therapy then turn around and use these terms to manipulate those around them. For example, a spouse can tell you that they don’t want you meeting friends because that violates their boundaries. This is inappropriate because boundaries are about ensuring you preserve your own mental health. They’re not about controlling other people’s behaviours.
Therapy speak is also easy to weaponize towards people who may have no awareness of mental health conditions. This is because mental health awareness and treatment is still a luxury for many. Mental health treatment, even consultations, are reserved for people with the privilege to pay for multiple treatments. To get exhaustive treatment, patients need to get multiple treatments that can range from medication, talk therapy, and hospitalization.
Misinformation and disinformation
Using therapy speak casually leaves lots of room for inaccuracies. This can lead to dangerous misunderstandings where conflict is mistaken for abuse. Throwing around accusations of gaslighting just because someone offers a different opinion can also be unhelpful to meaningful discourse. Misusing medical terms can make you pathologize ordinary behaviour or place diagnoses on people who don’t have actual conditions.
How can you use therapy speak appropriately?
Ensure that you consider other people’s boundaries. Whether online or in person, don’t make assumptions about the conditions that other people have. Pop culture misrepresents plenty of mental health conditions. While some movies, TV shows, and books try to have realistic representation, this can’t be all that viewers rely on to inform themselves about mental health. Using therapy speak from entertainment is what leads to referring to caring about organization means your “OCD is acting up”. How To Set Healthy Relationship Boundaries And Benefits
Seek informed opinions
Social media also creates a situation known as idiot compassion. This is the uninformed agreement with what a loved one posts. This is what people who post online for clout rather than support seek. Instead, if you feel like you’re in crisis, seek wise compassion from mental health professionals and only share verifiable information online and your personal experience in order to be helpful to others.
Mind your language
Therapy speak means appropriating words that may not be suitable for the situation you’re referring to. “Triggers” is a very specific term that is used for people with stress disorders whereby seeing something can trigger extreme panic attacks. Online triggers are now used as a catch-all term for anything that can make a viewer uncomfortable. Advisory or content warnings are more appropriate for that rather than triggers.
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It’s important to realize there’s a fine line between devaluing and destigmatizing a word. Therapy speak isn’t permission to attribute a bad day to clinical depression. Neither can anyone police who uses therapy speak. At best, people have to be mindful of the language they’re using and try to inform themselves about the best expression to use. At the very least, therapy speak will continue to embed itself in the daily lexicon. Express yourself with clarity. Instead of saying I was triggered into anger, simply say I was angry. Internalize your experiences and don’t try to pathologize them. Leave diagnosing to professionals. And when others use therapy speak to express themselves, meet them with grace. For those misusing it, call them out.
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