Consideration in language about ADD and OCD

At some point in your life you’ve probably come into contact with someone who has attention deficit disorder. Maybe you know someone who has obsessive-compulsive disorder as well. But probably, the number of people you know or have met with these conditions is outweighed by those who like to talk about how they have them but don’t actually have them.

The phrases are common:

“I can’t pay attention because I’m so ADD.”

“OMG, I’m so OCD because I hate odd numbers (or like things to be straightly aligned or whatever else).”

And so on.

From an accuracy standpoint, phrases such as this have always bothered me.

But more importantly, they speak to three important, related issues: 1) our ignorance about mental health; 2) how we sometimes use identifying with things that aren’t actually a part of our identity as an excuse; and 3) our flippancy with language.

In American culture today, we tend to trivialize mental disorders because we don’t understand them, and then we understand them even less because we trivialize them. It’s a bitter cycle.

To start, just taking a look at the title of these conditions should clue us in: the word disorder is in both. A person’s tendencies to be distracted easily or a desire for things to be orderly are not disorders.

When these phrases are used flippantly, they downplay the seriousness and pervasive, life-altering nature that things such as ADD or OCD can have on a person. They take conditions with specific criteria (as listed in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, for example) that many people take medication for and turn them into simple character traits.

And these aren’t the only examples. It’s similar when people say things like “I get claustrophobic when …,” as if a phobia is something that comes and goes and as if it’s a minor state of discomfort or anxiousness, not an intense, irrational fear.

It’s difficult for us to be respectful toward, and supportive of, people who actually have ADD, OCD, phobias, etc. if we are so careless with how we talk about them and how we pretend to be able to relate to the experience of those who suffer from them.

In addition to these phrases being problematic in relation to people who actually have these disorders, they’re problematic when they are used as a go-to description to explain a behavior. In other words, they’re often used as an excuse.

And when you think about it, saying you have a disease you don’t actually have to justify a behavior or to try to explain a personal preference or tendency isn’t cool.

And lastly, all of these go to show how important language is and how it’s important to be careful with how we use it.

How we express ourselves in words is important in how it shows our thought processes and understanding of the world and people around us, or lack thereof.

In being more careful with how we speak, and by extension how we think, we counteract the first two problems I just discussed.

None of this is to call anyone out nor to try to convince you that you’re a bad person if you have said these things. Rather, it’s a call for us to be more respectful and intentional with how we speak and how we interact with each other, as well as a request that we educate ourselves more about things we talk about but don’t really understand.

This is also not to draw negative attention to people with conditions like these as if having them makes you some diseased, crazy person.

It’s all about a healthy balance, seeing and understanding things for what they are, treating things that are serious and important seriously, and being respectful and intentional instead of inaccurate and flippant.

This entry was posted on Monday, December 2nd, 2013 and is filed under Opinion. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Responses are currently closed, but you can trackback from your own site.

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