Demi Lovato is one of many celebrities who has been outspoken about her own battle with mental illness. The "Neon Lights" singer was diagnosed with bi-polar disorder in 2011 during a stay in rehab where she was receiving help for an eating disorder and self-harm. Since then, she has talked about using her platform of fame to spread the message: that having a mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of, and that those struggling can live a happy, healthy life. While Lovato definitely wants to keep the conversation about mental health open, there's certain talk she wants to shut down.
“I get frustrated when people use the term ‘bipolar’ loosely. Like, they say ‘Oh, I can’t decide what movie to watch, I’m so bipolar.’ You don’t say, ‘I can’t decide what movie to watch, I’m so cancer.'”
Bi-polar is categorized by episodes of mania and depression. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, it is prevalent in 2.6% of the population in the United States. Dramatic shifts in mood, energy, and activity levels can make daily tasks a challenge. Yet many people use the word to refer to a common mood swing or change of opinion, not fully grasping that the term has a much deeper meaning for those who deal with the mental illness on a daily basis.
Look, I get it: It's annoying to have to police your words when you're just joking about how you can't decide between dating Ryan Gosling or Ryan Reynolds. Yet if you're someone who has to deal with the many stigmas against mental illness on the daily, words can hurt. Using the term bi-polar when you really mean "flaky" or "erratic" paints a pretty crappy picture of what living with a mental illness is like. After all, having bi-polar is not a character flaw: It's an illness, and one that can be managed with the proper tools.
If we're going to fight the stigma against mental illness, our choice of words matter.