It is time we as a society open our eyes to the truth of these mental illnesses.
In our everyday language we often use acronyms. Whether that be terms as simple as LOL or TTYL when communicating on social media platforms, or more serious terms such as PTSD, acronyms are commonly used in our everyday lives. Acronyms are used due to the fact that they are easy to say, but sometimes people use this mechanism to give themselves less easy-to-understand diagnoses.
I am sure we all have been around someone in a messy space that has suddenly gained the ability to diagnose themself as OCD, or been around someone who gets slightly stressed and suddenly they have severe panic attacks. OCD, or Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is defined by the NIH as a common, chronic, and long-lasting disorder in which a person has uncontrollable, reoccurring thoughts ("obsessions") and/or behaviors ("compulsions") that he or she feels the urge to repeat over and over. For some people, when hearing others toss these terms around, it may not seem very problematic nor pressing; however, for those who experience the reality of these circumstances, it is extremely detrimental. 18 year old Jaela Sligold gives us some perspective on what having OCD really means, and how experiencing it is far more than what people assume.
When asking Jaela if she had ever heard someone describe themself as OCD simply because of feeling disorganized, she responded by stating that she had, and she felt that “it is a very common misconception of that mental disorder, because while that can be an aspect of it it doesn't come to close to what it actually is like having it”.
She described OCD as far more than just something we can claim to have because of our own stereotypes, as for her it is completely life altering. I decided to ask Jaela about the obstacles OCD poses in her everyday life, and she responded with a truth that most people are completely unaware of. “OCD affects my relationships with friends and family and affects my daily routine because I have to do certain things in order to confirm to myself that the intrusive thoughts and compulsions I have are not real”.
The reality of having an illness such as OCD is far more than what meets the surface, and by perceiving it as just a description of a certain behavior completely undermines the experiences of those like Jaela, who know what it is really like to face these challenges. To get an understanding of how to properly diagnose OCD and a more professional aspect, I have gained insight from Licensed Clinical Social Worker Cynthia Pizzuli, PHD. “I believe that it is extremely common for people to misdiagnose themselves as having OCD when in actuality they have certain quirks about themselves, and some people that think because they like things in their place or like to have certain controls in their lives somehow that means they have an obsessive compulsive disorder”.
Dr Pizzulli continues to describe the specific criteria necessary to be diagnosed with OCD, and explains that “the truth is everybody wants to feel in control, but something can only be considered a disorder when it causes actual disorder and it interferes with your ability to properly function”. This professional wisdom from Dr. Pizzulli in combination with the personal experiences of one who has truly felt the anguish and interference posed by the obstacle of OCD displays to us that this is so much more than what meets the surface.
We as a society cannot reduce these mental illnesses to just a simple acronym or characteristic, because the people who struggle with them deserve much more than that.
Another commonly thrown around illness that people tend to self diagnose with, is PTSD. PTSD, or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is defined by the NCI as “An anxiety disorder that develops in reaction to physical injury or severe mental or emotional distress, such as military combat, violent assault, natural disaster, or other life-threatening events”. Oftentimes, if someone is reminded of a past event that makes them feel uneasy, they will throw around claims like “this is giving me such bad PTSD”. However, what it means to really have PTSD is so different from this one dimensional stereotype.
PTSD is something that can affect people of all ages at any point in their lives. 18 year old Keana McArdle was diagnosed with PTSD at age 17, and the ways in which it impacts her life in comparison to the perceptions of the disorder are vastly different. When asking Keana if she had ever heard someone throw around the term PTSD in regards to themselves she claimed that she has, and it is normally in regards to a bad memory they’ve had. However, “people don’t realize PTSD has more layers than just a bad memory. It prevents me from taking important steps in my future, the ways in which I trust people, and can trigger panic attacks and states of dissociation” (McArdle, 18).
Keana described PTSD as a mental wall that she continues to climb every single day, and wishes that instead of our society using this term as an excuse for behavior or as just another characteristic that people would seek help, instead of undermining such a life altering and challenging disorder.
Psychiatrist Dr. Richard LoSardo describes PTSD as far more than what most people perceive it to be, and allows us to gain more important insight on a disorder that truly is so much more than a triggering bad memory. He describes PTSD as “an exposure to a life altering trauma, whether you are the person who experienced the trauma or whether you were a witness to the traumatic event, you can be diagnosed with PTSD” (LoSardo, MD). He further emphasizes the fact that throwing around the term PTSD as just a characteristic of being triggered is extremely triggering, as this term should “only be used for true victims of this serious disorder that causes serious impairment, as it is unfair to use this term without diagnosis, because the actual diagnosis has major effects on all levels of functioning” (LoSardo, MD).
Licensed Clinical Social Worker Jeffrey Shearer adds to this claim by describing that the diagnosis for PTSD has four different elements, and he believes that by continuing to use this term not only undermines the disease’s severity but also gives people an excuse to not find a cure, when in he strongly believes that “PTSD can absolutely be mitigated” (Shearer, LCSW).
The longer our society continues to throw around terms and diagnoses as reasoning for personal characteristics, the more we ignore the seriousness of how these disorders affect so many people. It is time for us to become more educated, reflect on our word choice, and put an end to the throwing around of serious diagnoses. PTSD and OCD are not just acronyms or characteristics; they are serious and valid and it is time we act accordingly.
Jordan is a first year political science and journalism major at UF and an online writer for Rowdy