The Definition of “Disorder” and Why It’s Important

Hi everyone. I was amazed at how many comments I got on my last post from people who felt the same way about being optimistic about the future while feeling stuck in a place in the present that really gets you down. I don’t know that I really have any advice, expect that I would rather have it this way than be hopeless about both!

Anyway, the topic today…I kind of hate it when people throw around words that have a true, severe meaning, like saying, “Oh, I’m so OCD” when you are a little anal about having things clean and particular about organizing your closet. As someone who has suffered from real OCD (from 5th to 8th grade, with some after-effects still lingering), I would like to discuss the significance of that little word “DISORDER”.

Maybe these people should say, “I’m a little OC”. 😉

A disorder, in the psychiatric sense,  is something that has a real, significant impact on your life, mental and perhaps physical health, and relationships. Yes, the lines can be blurred, but here is one personal example…

  • OCD – Someone with true OCD, though it can have many varying levels of severity, has a disorder that causes a significant disturbance in their life. For example, when I was in 5th grade, I developed OCD to deal with a pretty severe anxiety disorder I have had since I was a small child. I would get up at 4am before school to do all my counting and showering rituals (I didn’t have to leave for school until 8). At night, I wouldn’t go to bed until late doing the same thing. THAT was a problem! I somehow got out of this for awhile, and then later unfortunately ended up channeling it into other negative coping mechanisms.

I am not saying any of this to minimize problems people may have that don’t fall under the official diagnostic criteria for a disorder.  Those things can be SO hard in themselves. I sometimes still obsessively count things or cross myself and it doesn’t take up a huge portion of my day, but it is still really hard some days. Having eating issues, even if not classified as an eating disorder, can still have a big impact on your mental health, and physical health too, although not to the same extent. It is truly up to you to decide if you have a problem, and if you decide that you do, you deserve to seek help for it. Don’t minimize your own struggles by thinking otherwise!

However, I AM saying all of this because I think over-using these terms in everyday conversation is what minimizes the struggles of those suffering from these diseases. There does have to be a line drawn somewhere in what defines these words.

Maybe I am being overly sensitive, but it’s just something to think about. Like the common usage of the word “gay” (meaning something lame or stupid, thus giving a negative connotation to a word that should really just benignly describe a sexual orientation), using these terms incorrectly CAN have a negative impact.

I think the one that bugs me most is when people over-use the word “bi-polar”, as in “She is SO bipolar lately” when some is having mood swings related to their menstrual cycle or something. I don’t know why, I just find this offensive. This usage is referring to bi-polar disorder, and doing the same thing: making a negative adjective out of what should be just a name of a disease. Maybe it seems silly, but I think people should think about how this offends someone with this real mental illness.

***Since this week is Suicide Awareness and Prevention Week, I am going to do a series of posts on mental health issues.

  • Coming up: more of my story: a lesson on perspective, the importance of defining acute vs chronic mental illness, and The Black Hole: the psychological impact of unemployment on the potential for re-employment

Disclaimer: While I have a lot of background biochemistry and psychology knowledge, I am not a professional. Seek help if you need it.

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2 thoughts on “The Definition of “Disorder” and Why It’s Important

  1. I’m definitely guilty of tossing around the term “OCD” on a pretty regular basis… I’m not, I’m just really Type A. I need to start saying that instead – you’re right – I could be offending someone without even realizing it. Thanks for the reminder!

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