Advertising Stigma

I Have OCD Obsessive Christmas Disorder T-Shirt XMas Tee ...
I love Christmas as much as the next person, but throwing mental illness in as a joke? That’s where we need to draw the line.

Today’s post ties in pretty appropriately with yesterday’s, so if you haven’t read that one yet, you should. Shameless self-promotion. It IS my blog, after all.

In the many ways that we perpetuate our ideas and beliefs, an obvious way is through what we choose to spend our money on. Businesses and corporations then try to predict and mimic our patterns so they earn the most profit. I don’t even study business, so please tell me if I’m wrong.

But from the content bombarding us every passing moment, making the most memorable statement in the least amount of time requires relying upon stereotypes. True or not, having common conceptions of certain roles and phrases is helpful in delivering a quick but effective story and create a persona for a brand without much extra explaining.

Stereotypes are a double-edged sword. Since we want to understand the world by simplifying things into categories and labels, we overlook complexity, the grey area always present. We turn the stereotype mentality toward every aspect of life, judging other people and things based off of a limited perspective, a snapshot of the whole picture.

And that’s putting everything in light, friendly terms. What really grinds the gears of so many individuals is the use of mental illness stereotypes in media and advertising. Heck, even products themselves that use words like “crazy” and “psycho” and “OCD” validate ignorance. The real kicker here is that we don’t even realize that these words are harmful. We are so conditioned to using them in everyday dialogue to describe ourselves and others that they are just automatic, just adjectives in the dictionary.

I remember even back in middle school campaigns that fought to eliminate the misuse of words like “retarded” and “gay.” They’re terms that don’t actually describe what you’re feeling, but they become so commonplace and part of your “everyday lingo” that you have to consciously remind yourself to choose other words instead. Because there are people’s lives affected. Those words represent populations of people already marginalized in society, and throwing around thoughtless words doesn’t uplift anybody.

The same mentality needs to go for words negatively associated with mental illness or medical diagnoses that the speaker doesn’t actually have. Someone who is considered “crazy” or “psycho” is another stereotypical character we’ve created. Yes, the stereotype came from some sliver of truth in the first place, but it by no means defines everybody.

Mental illness, already so misunderstood, affects people very differently. Often we wouldn’t know somebody is struggling just from a first glance. We don’t know the kinds and severity of symptoms they might face, now or in the past. We don’t know right off the bat what might trigger somebody into negative and destructive thoughts or behaviors. Just because you don’t see somebody’s mind churning doesn’t make their emotions any less real or potentially dangerous to themselves and those around them.

If you’re feeling sad, that doesn’t make you “depressed.” If you like to be clean and organized, you aren’t “so OCD.” Your normal mood swings are “bipolar.” The list goes on. We’ve normalized these phrases to the point where they can become marketing ploys. They can be printed on the products we buy. And yes, we do buy them. Otherwise nobody would sell them.

Mental illness is not a fashion statement. It’s neglecting hygiene and eating because you aren’t motivated. It’s self-harm scars, visible or not. It’s trembling fear from an everyday, safe situation. It’s having an unshakable urge to keep thinking or doing something, so much that you cannot focus or do anything else.

Like I’ve said before, as consumers, we are the ones starting the conversation. We are the ones buying what the companies are selling. We are the ones choosing the content we want to see and how we rate it. Our words have an impact not just now, but for others in the future. If we want to invigorate a future that is tolerant and conscious, then it starts now.

That might mean going against the grain of what’s normal and and acceptable, but it’s actions we need to take. It’s not unreasonable to point out these terms that only hold us back from greater acceptance and understanding. When we have so much information and so many resources within reach, we have no excuse to think that these words are okay. Serious health conditions shouldn’t be buzzwords to describe something or someone. That’s just basic respect.

And by setting respectful intentions, so many people don’t have to feel ashamed or embarrassed to experience mental illness. They won’t feel so misunderstood or alone thinking a glamorous persona of disease is accurate. Because you are valid. You matter. You don’t have to be a poster child for a diagnosis to seek help and reach out to loved ones. You are so much more than a walking advertisement, a single phrase.

Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie


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