‘Quirkiness’ is used to describe someone who’s eccentric. Someone who dresses cool, likes underground music and has coloured hair. Someone who doesn’t define themselves or who doesn’t follow the rules. You know, every teen on Tumblr ever. But you know what’s not quirky? Living with a mental illness. I recently saw a tweet from someone describing living with depression as being ‘quirky’. It seemed like this person didn’t really understand the severity of depression – or that they saw it more as a personality trait than an illness. Whatever the reason, the description is dangerous. Being ‘quirky’ is something that is in your control. It’s something that you could change should you want to. Mental illness is not. Mental illness doesn’t care who it affects and it’ll do all it can to prevent the person living with it from recovering from it.
When you describe your mental illness as being ‘quirky’, you’re taking the seriousness away from it. You’re telling people that it’s in your control. You’re giving people a false perception of the illness. To people who don’t understand it, this is damaging. People who don’t understand the effects of mental illness need to be educated. They need to learn that beating depression, anxiety, and serious mood disorders is not just a case of eating healthily, going for a run or drinking lots of water. It’s sometimes a case of not beating it at all, but just learning to cope. They need to learn that medication can be helpful and not shameful. They need to comprehend that sometimes mental illness can hit you so hard that it’s a challenge to get out of bed, let alone leave the house. Saying a mental illness is quirky is suggesting it is not a real illness, which is something that people who don’t understand mental illness believe. You wouldn’t describe having a broken leg as being ‘quirky’, nor a chest infection or a migraine. You’d treat it as what it is – an illness. You’d seek professional help and give yourself time to recover. Mental health issues need to be treated the same way. We’re now in a world where people are taking to social media to open up about their mental health in hopes of raising awareness and letting other people going through a similar time know that they are not alone. This is brilliant; I can’t commend them enough. Sadly, there are some who see the attention these posts get and try to use a similar topic for their own gain. These people shove it in their Twitter bio and throw labels around casually, as though mental illness is a personality trait. Write what you want on your own social media but please, don’t write things that could be triggering and detrimental to those who know mental illness is in no way the same as being ‘weird’, ‘different’ or ‘eccentric’. It’s almost as if mental illness has become trendy. It’s cool to say you’re depressed. Saying you have anxiety makes you seem more unpredictable. Bipolar more intense.
But none of these illnesses – nor any others – are cool. I would never wish any of them on anyone and I find it hard to understand how people can describe them as if they’re nothing, as if it’s just another word to slot next to ‘I like literature, cats and coffee’ in your Twitter bio. Take OCD for example. What many people don’t realise is that for most, OCD isn’t about tidiness or order. It’s intense, intrusive thoughts. Dark images in your mind. The fear that something bad is going to happen if you don’t follow ritual behaviours. But, because of what we see in films and TV, people believe OCD is about having tidy cupboards and a made bed. Perhaps you put more effort into ensuring your shoes are neatly tucked away at the end of the day. Maybe you hate the curtains left in a certain way. These aren’t behaviours that necessarily warrant a diagnosis of OCD. When mental health disorders are misused to describe these behaviours, people feel they have a free pass to say they have it when they don’t.
This makes things worse for people actually living with mental illness, because people begin to question them. Are you really sick, or are you just another person describing your behaviours as ‘quirky’ mental illnesses because it seems much more interesting than saying you like your shoes lined up? It needs to stop, for the sake of people who are still having to convince people that they’re sick. They shouldn’t have to, but they do. By telling the world your mental illness is ‘quirky’, you are telling bosses that their employees’ mental health isn’t real enough to warrant a sick day.
You’re telling all the confused parents that their kids can cheer up if they want to, they’re just choosing to be sad. You’re telling all of those living without mental illness that you see mental health as nothing but a way to be perceived as someone who’s ‘out there’ and ‘different’. And if you ask me, that’s selfish.