Ugh. So let’s talk about this mess:
So here’s a fun fact: Mental illnesses are not adjectives.
I’m angry. I’m angry because this isn’t the first time I’ve seen “bipolar” used in such a frivolous, insensitive way, and I’m sure it won’t be the last.
Do people honestly think that bipolar disorder is just a happy/sad rollercoaster of fun times? Because I’m pretty sure the word you’re looking for is “moody” or “dramatic” or maybe “volatile,” none of which are synonyms for “bipolar.”
Have you considered that maybe God is just really irrational? Because if anything, I think the more accurate description for bipolar would be a place you all describe as “hell.”
When you take a mental illness, and use it to flippantly describe a behavior or mood that has no relevance to the disorder, you completely trivialize the illness. You’re mocking a painful disability, perpetuating stereotypes about these illnesses, and undermining the seriousness of these struggles.
And yet, folks still do this, and they do it often. Apparently mental illness is just really fun to some people.
But here’s the reality: These aren’t descriptors. These aren’t jokes. These are illnesses, and they are experienced by millions of people around the world.
When people use “bipolar” as an adjective, or any other mental illness this way, they’re not actually talking about the illnesses themselves, nor giving visibility to the very real people who struggle with them.
They’re talking about their oversimplified, stereotypical, juvenile understanding of the word, and applying it to something that it isn’t. And what happens when you do this? You make the illness into a joke. You make our lives into a joke. And you render our struggles meaningless.
They aren’t attempting to open up a discussion about a painful illness that disrupts and devastates our lives. They aren’t trying to create a greater understanding of our community and the complicated, challenging, and at times, inspiring lives that we lead. They aren’t trying to raise awareness about mental health or illness, which is one of the leading causes of disability and suicide worldwide.
Instead, they use it as an adjective, undermining both the gravity of the illness and its impact on real, living people.
I don’t particularly care what Ratio Christi’s intentions were when they used the word “bipolar” in this flyer. I’m talking about the impact when you use these words so carelessly. When you use mental illnesses as adjectives, and do not treat it with the seriousness it deserves, you take someone’s lived experience, their struggle, and turn it into a descriptor that gives people the wrong idea of what these illnesses are, and what they really feel like.
It trivializes and erases the very real, very human struggle of living life with a mental illness.
And when I see someone using the word “bipolar” as an adjective or, worse yet, as a buzz word for a flyer, I get angry. Because the only time we should use “bipolar” is when we’re talking about the disease and the real people who are impacted by it.
And as a graduate of the University of Michigan-Dearborn, where this flyer was carelessly plastered, I am ashamed.
I want to know why it was approved, because yes, all flyers require approval to be posted on our campus.
I want to know what the institution intends to do about it.
And most of all, I want a firm commitment, on the part of everyone involved, that there will NEVER be another flyer that upholds the stigma, stereotypes, and oppression of people with mental illnesses like bipolar disorder.
The idea that any university would give the go-ahead to post flyers that effectively dehumanize their students with disabilities is unconscionable.
So unless you’re about to start saying “she’s so breast cancer!” or “he’s totally dementia,” I suggest you reconsider your word choice.
Take Action! Tweet the UM-D Chapter of Ratio Christi; respectfully let them know that their flyer is problematic, and does not align with their claims of “engaging with integrity” and “moral character.”
Sam Dylan Finch is a freelance writer and queer activist, currently living in the San Francisco Bay Area. He is the founder of Let’s Queer Things Up!, a queer and feminist perspective on current events and politics. His twitter can be found, unsurprisingly, at @samdylanfinch.
Visit his official website: www.samdylanfinch.com