By Claire Crittendon – Co-Editor-in-Chief
Going to psych wards is not normal. Getting an NG tube in ED recovery is not normal. Self-harm is not normal. Suicidality is not normal. These concepts should not be “normalized.” Being in crisis should not be made normal. Mental health struggles should be destigmatized, not normalized.
When mental health crises and illness are normalized, it creates barriers to help and accessibility. For example, ADHD affects sensitivity to lights and sounds, ability to keep track of time, communication in interpersonal relationships, executive function, focus, ability to prioritize, and so much more. It is a medical disorder that often requires an adjusted environment in order for people who have it to thrive.
“Normalizing” someone’s ADHD does not help them meet their needs.
Normalization also paints mental illness as an inescapable cycle. If it’s so normal, something that plagues everyone, then why attempt to work through it? Many mental illnesses are chronic, but some are not. Addiction, PTSD, certain forms of depression and anxiety; these are not always lifelong. Even if a specific diagnosis is thought to be chronic, there are many coping skills and treatment strategies with proven success. Destigmatization helps connect people with this life-saving information. Normalization does the opposite, because if something is so normal, why work to change it?
Mental illness is an abnormality; it’s why we have the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), why we have therapy, why we have medication.
Mental health and mental illnesses are complex, and I understand the language surrounding it is ever-changing. It may feel hard to know the “right” way to talk about it; that is common. The important thing is to keep the conversations going, make mistakes, and learn from them! No one’s phrasing is always perfect, try not to hold yourself or anyone else to unattainable standards of perfection. What matters is intention, and a willingness to learn. How do you speak about mental health?