Detrimental Effects of Misusing Mental Disorders

Sonika Khosla, Staff Writer

Teens our age often find themselves hearing many differing opinions about mental disorders and how to deal with it. While some question the validity of mental health issues and disorders in teens, going as far as to making it controversial, a wave of awareness has taken over social media platforms and schools. The importance of normalizing mental health is tremendous, and the growing number of advocates for this cause is inspiring. However, it is critical to discern the difference between normalization and trivialization of mental disorders. 

According to, to normalize is to cause something previously considered abnormal or unacceptable to be treated as normal, while to trivialize is to cause to appear unimportant, trifling or essentially less than it is. 

Normalizing talking about mental disorders is the encouragement of people to open up about their struggles, the acceptance of needing help if necessary, and the acknowledgement of the fact that just because someone is dealing with a mental disorder, doesn’t make them less of a person. Normalization pushes the idea that mental disorders shouldn’t be held at issue, and should instead be positively affirmed.

Trivializing mental disorders, on the other hand, is talking about mental disorders in a dismissive, belittling, or even uneducated manner. Even though talking about mental disorders should be normalized, throwing around comments regarding disorders in a casual or demeaning way can impact someone in a very negative way. While trivializing comments about mental disorders are usually not said with a malicious intention, the detrimental effects are still the same. It is necessary to understand that stereotyping disorders invalidates the experiences of those who deal with them. 

There are multiple examples in which people, unintentionally or not, use common stereotypes on different disorders.

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, or OCD, is a disorder in which people have recurring thoughts that are unwanted, often driving them to complete repetitive actions or rituals as a source of comfort. This disorder is often misused as an adjective in many conversations and completely invalidates the hardships one may face. For example, someone might say that because they like to color-code their notes, they are OCD. It is destructive to make comments like these because they make OCD sound like it is simply a matter of liking things organized and neat, when in reality, it forces intrusive thoughts and uncomfortable behaviors that may seem impossible to overcome in the moment. OCD is not an adjective, it’s a disorder. You can’t “be a disorder,” you can have it.

Bipolar Disorder is another mental disorder that has been overly stereotyped and trivialized. There is a misconception that being bipolar only includes switching from emotion to emotion rapidly, where in reality, it includes manic and depressive phases, often lasting for weeks to even months. When someone changes emotions, like teens often do, and makes a comment about how they are feeling bipolar, it serves as another point of invalidation, and makes the disorder seem less than it actually is.

If you ever think that you need to consult someone about potentially needing a diagnosis, by all means, you should. Acknowledging your feelings and figuring out if you need help is a very valid need. It is just important to make the distinction between acknowledging your own personal feelings, and verbally expressing them like a stereotype or as a joke. You can be a perfectionist, but not have OCD, just like you can have mood swings, but not have Bipolar Disorder. 

Mental disorders are more prevalent in teens than we realize. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, or NIMH, an estimated 49.5% of adolescents have a mental disorder. This means that nearly half of the people at school could be dealing with some kind of mental disorder, and your words could affect more people than you realize. I hope that by reading this you have gained a new awareness on your impact of words and the true difference on how to normalize, not trivialize.