Sara Klimek

Sometimes, we’re not always aware of how impactful our words can be.  In such a technological society, how can we strive to be constantly aware that our words have consequences and that nothing we say is actually off the record?


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‘Political correctness’ (PC) is often confused with being respectful of people’s identities and values.  PC culture is defined as a societal structure that limits language, policies, and measures that offend certain groups of people and/or put them at a disadvantage.  For certain Republicans, PC is used as a way to demean liberals and make them seem like they’re always offended by everything. For example, Tomi Lahren, a conservative political commentator, has recently come under a firestorm for her use of ‘snowflake,’ a term she deems appropriate for someone that gets offended by everything.  But is it really that offensive to your morals to use they/them pronouns instead of she/her? What’s so wrong with making someone feel comfortable and human in their own skin?

I don’t have very many instances where I would prefer someone to call me a freshwoman rather than a freshman, or a firewoman versus and fireman (I mean, I guess you could call me a horse-person and not a horseman, if you do so choose).  But what I do have experience with is not something that you can easily stick a new suffix on: mental illness.

I wouldn’t classify being aware of the mental struggles of others as a form of PC culture.  I just want people to be more aware that the words that they say can stigmatize mental illness into something it’s not, or minimize the impacts that mental illness can have on a person’s wellbeing.  It’s just plain inconsiderate and unprofessional.

Here are some of the  most common comments that I hear regarding mental illness.

1) ‘OMG! Brad dumped me last night and I feel so depressed.’  

No Cindy, you feel sad.  Depression is a serious, draining, and long-lasting rut of self-depreciation.  There are many causes of depression including loss of a loved one, chemical imbalances in the brain, trauma, and abuse.  If you think that you may be sinking into depression or another mental illness, contact a health professional.

2) ‘You don’t need to take medication.'

Can’t you just go on a walk? Man, if my chemical imbalance could be solved by going outside alone, I would have been cured by the time I turned six.  Not all mental illnesses can be solved by talk-therapy or exercise alone, some require more aggressive forms of treatment like medication.  You wouldn’t tell someone with a physical disability to stop taking their meds and to just go on a walk.

3) ‘I can’t believe my professor is making me write this paper. I’m going to kill myself.’  

Tedious tasks are often difficult to accomplish - that’s why we call them hard.   Is it difficult to come up with a better rebuttal than ‘LOL, kill yourself?’ Suicide and self-harm are not topics to joke about by any stretch of the imagination.  Not only are you making the people around you uncomfortable, but you’re making yourself look like an inconsiderate fool for thinking that minimizing suicide is a plausible and great way to make a joke.

4) ‘We all get sad sometimes.’  

Depression, anxiety, PTSD, Bipolar Disorder, and BPD (a short list) are not just simply day-to-day feelings.  If you say this, you may decrease someone’s willpower to seek treatment.

5) ‘Josh is such a schizo.’  

For years, schizophrenia was the subject of ax-murder horror shows.  It still isn’t synonymous with being crazy. If you need to describe someone who has a mental illness, you can use a people-first approach. With this approach, you avoid creating unnecessary adjectives for mental illnesses.  Instead, say ‘Josh has schizophrenia.’

6) ‘My OCD is coming out.’  

This is a good description of what OCD is and isn’t.  As public awareness grows about mental illnesses, sometimes people think that they may have a mental illness.  This causes them to throw that word around in their daily vocabulary. Mental health professionals are able to diagnose and provide treatment options; if you think you might have an illness, see a professional.

7) ‘Stop feeling sorry for yourself - you did nothing wrong.’  

It is difficult to snap out of a depressive phase after being in the dark for so long.  Recovery can take months, years, and even longer if people don’t seek treatment as soon as possible.

8) ‘It’s all in your head.’  

Mental illness can manifest debilitating physical symptoms.  Again, if you had cancer, it would be all about seeking the best possible medical care.  How is that different with mental illness?

It is all of our responsibilities to make sure that people with mental illness have safe places where they can be honest about their struggles and speak out.  Hold other people accountable for their words - you never know who’s listening.


Sara is a freshman at the University of Vermont studying Environmental Studies. She’s hoping to go to law school after finishing her bachelor’s degree.

Comments (2)

  1. Madeline Peterson

I love this post! As someone who suffers from mental illness and has lost family from suicide, I know how much these comments can hurt. Thanks for sharing Sara!

  1. Madeline Peterson

I love this post! As someone who suffers from mental illness and who has lost family to suicide, I know how much these comments can hurt. Thanks for sharing Sara!


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