Posted in Mental Health

How We Trivialise Mental Illness

We all know about the stigma of mental health: the general assumption that anyone with a mental illness can “flip out” at any minute, how we’re near suicidal every minute of ever day, and how we’re likely harm somebody else – and all the other stereotypes. These stereotypes are not just wrong, but damaging. There is another barrier to people with mental health issues seeking and getting help, and that is when people trivialise mental health.What do I mean by “trivialising”? Have you ever heard yourself doing any of these things

  • Making light of mental health by saying “yeah, I’m a bit OCD about cleanliness” (when you’re simply meticulous)
  • Equally making light of severe mental health conditions by saying things like “I think he/she is a bit bi-polar” (about somebody who is merely a little moody)
  • Playing down the most common mental illness by saying “I’m depressed.” (when all you mean is that you’re just feeling a little under the weather)

People do it all the time. Whereas the stigma over-inflates the potential effects of mental health, the trivialisation through the misuse of the types of terms seen above further undermines mental health and those who are trying to do something about it.

I implore everyone to be careful about the words they use when describing their own actions. If you want to know what these conditions are really like, please read the following articles:

  • About a year ago, I wrote what depression really feels like and it’s a hell of a lot worse than simply feeling a little fed up. We all have blue days – that is not depression.
  • An OCD sufferer talks about his experiences and frustration with the misuse of the word here
  • UK mental health charity Mind discusses what Bi-Polar Disorder really means here




I go by the name of Frank Speaking. My blog "In the Mind of Men" (former name Chin Up, Chest High) started out as a chronicle of my mental health recovery. Now it is a forum where I discuss issues related to male mental health.

8 thoughts on “How We Trivialise Mental Illness

  1. I think at the other extreme we have people who assume all mental illness is so severe that it couldn’t possibly go undetected or be dismissed. When someone mentions having depression, but isn’t always broken down, they try and make them feel better by insisting it can’t be so bad because “You were happy yesterday.” When someone mentions cyclothymia they will brush it off as “It isn’t PROPER bipolar, you can manage it.” When someone mentions minor hallucinations their either flip and become terrified of that person, or claim they can’t really be there, because “You’re so normal!”

    The average person’s understanding of psychology, mental health and illness is very poor, but the average person doesn’t know this.

    1. Agree completely. Where do we think this armchair psychology comes from? Of course, on the internet today everyone is an expert but for mental illness that has always been around.

      “Oh, you’re depressed? You just need to try harder – go for a walk and think positively!”

      1. I think it’s from a combination of how the media portrays mental health (you’re either normal or a psycho) and all these quizzes and articles that make people think they know more than they do.

        In the past the stereotype of “normal vs psycho” developed from the very reasonable “ability to function” criterion: if you are able to function, whatever it takes, you are a healthy productive member of society; if you are unable to function, there is a problem with you. However broad a brush this painted, it actually served a purpose. Until fads for mental illnesses happen. They seem to show up every few years and have done since Victorian times. During these fads, the everyday person casts aside the “ability to function” rule in a desperate quest to seem special, which may then develop into a personality disorder. This blurs the boundaries even more.

        In short, when we focus on the details, we develop cures and therapy to help. When we focus on the big picture we understand that some people are able to function normally despite a clinical condition and that mental illness isn’t clear cut between normies and psychos. Try and combine the two and, without a lot of reading, many people end up believing they are specialists.

  2. Oh this topic is right at the middle of my thoughts right now.
    If others have not experienced a similar situation themselves they will find it very difficult to ‘fully’ understand just what it is like in any real sense, the depth and intensity of it and the impact it can have.
    When you find that even friends who know a fair deal of the story clearly have no idea of the sheer hopelessness and fear, the complex and complete lack of confidence and ability to tackle even the simplest of tasks let alone just ‘face up to it’ or ‘deal with your stuff’ as if you hadn’t spent endless hours over endless weeks and months trying to do exactly that.
    But personally I do think that in general there is a strong movement to spread some understanding of the complexities of mental health issues and address the stigma that surrounds it, and that can’t be a bad thing, since the more publicly acceptable these things seem, the more likely people are to seek help, even if we all know that discrimination is only natural and will take an awful lot more work to really have a significant impact upon.
    And until that happens we trivialise our own conditions so as to protect ourselves from that discrimination…

    1. Oh yeah, absolutely. There’s a big push now to make people see that mental illness is indeed illness and not a choice as these armchair experts would have us believe.

      You appear to be in the UK too (is that right?) When you look at the campaigns of the last few years by Mind and Time to Change, you’ll see that great inroads have already been made.

  3. Like my mother, I too suffer from “clinical depression”.

    When my mother chose to die from her cancer, rather than battle her cancer, I understood why she did it. My father, on the other hand could not understand it. When I explained to him that “some people want to die”. He scoffed at me and said, “No one wants to die.”

    “Um, actually dad, they do. Don’t you remember when I attempted suicide in high school? Well guess what? I really wanted to die.”

    I knew why my mother wanted to die for the same reasons throughout my life the abyss of my depression pulled me so far under that I too believed I wanted to die.

    I also learned from my therapist that depression is reoccurring — it will never go away nor can it be cured.

    When someone commits suicide and I’ll hear people say, “How? Why? How could someone kill themselves?” I know that person or persons has never suffered from debilitating depression for only someone who lives it, understands it and does not trivialize it.

    1. Thanks for your.

      Everything you say is true. Some people want to die because it is the only release, though arguably terminal illness and severe depression are very different reasons – one is made in the depths of depression and is completely irrational (even if it doesn’t feel like it at the time) and the other is made rationally based on a critical understanding of one’s imminent demise.

      It’s World Suicide Prevention Day next week and I have a post lined up for it. If you’d like to read part of my story, I wrote about the subject last year too

      1. It wasn’t the first time my mom considered suicide but finding out she has cancer allowed her to choose death because she knew, doing nothing, would lead assuredly to death. But you’re right in what you said.

        Thank you for the link.

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