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At some point, you’ve probably heard someone call their emotional ex-boyfriend a psycho.
Or maybe they said that their tidy roommate had OCD, or their unpredictable neighbor was
totally schizo, or their moody sister was bipolar.
We do this a lot...and let’s stop.
Think about it this way...if your friend doesn’t like sugar, you aren’t like “Ugh, he’s
such a diabetic.” Just imagine saying “Oh! My ex was a TOTAL cancer patient. He was sick
ALL THE TIME!” Ughh!
Many mental health professionals point out that using diagnostic terms as misplaced metaphors
for odd behavior, personality traits, or even changes in the stock market ultimately minimizes
serious conditions, and the people who have them.
So we’re here today to help clear up some of these definitions, and explain why the
weather isn’t schizophrenic, and how your ex probably isn't actually a psychopath.
[Intro]
First off, it’s important to understand what "psychological disorder" really means
to the experts.
Psychologists define a disorder as a deviant, distressful, and dysfunctional pattern of
thoughts, feelings, or behavior that interferes with a person’s ability to function in a
healthy way.
Now, let’s break that down: Deviant doesn’t mean something like dastardly or raunchy -- it
just means something that’s different from your general social norm. And that can be
pretty broad; like, serial killers are deviant from the norm, but so are geniuses and Olympians.
So, to be classified as a disorder, those deviant thoughts or behavior need to cause
the person, or people around them, actual distress, which pretty much means a feeling
that something is... off.
And that distress can turn into a harmful dysfunction if it limits a person’s ability
to live and work.
Take anxiety, for example. It’s something that we all have to some degree -- getting
the jitters before a first date or a big speech in front of a crowd - totally normal.
But being so distressed at the thought of interacting with others that you actually
can't leave your house … then that’s a disorder.
So, your roommate does not have obsessive compulsive disorder, or OCD, just because
she can’t bear to have dirty dishes in the sink. But she very well might if her compulsions
are interfering with her ability to live a healthy and happy life.
OCD isn’t about being neat, or particular, or just deciding that you really like the
color orange and want to wear it a lot.
It’s a serious, often debilitating condition characterized by unwanted repetitive thoughts,
which can be known as obsessions, and when they’re accompanied by actions, those are
called compulsions.
For people with OCD, compulsive behavior can be a way to try to relieve the intense anxiety
that comes with obsessive thoughts -- like a fear that, say, if you don’t walk over
and touch that light switch exactly four times, something terrible is going to happen.
Kind of puts the dirty dishes in perspective.
And bee tee dubs, if you don’t wanna wash your dishes and your roommate is mad at you,
that is not their problem, because CLEAN YOUR DANG DISHES, JEREMY, AND WOULD IT KILL YOU
TO TAKE OUT THE TRASH ONCE A YEAR!
Another term I’m sure you’ve heard -- and heard used incorrectly -- is “schizophrenic.”
Really not a suitable way to describe your moody neighbor, just because he called the
cops last week when your music was too loud, but then came back a few days later with leftover
birthday cake.
That is not being schizophrenic -- that’s just a person being nice to you one day, and
not nice another.
True schizophrenia is pretty rare -- affecting only about one percent of the global population
-- and it’s probably the most stigmatized and misunderstood psychological disorder of
them all.
And that might be why the term is so often misused. We see the term “schizophrenia”
used in the media all the time, to describe political flip-flopping and fluctuations in
the stock market, even eccentric celebrity style choices.
One study of the terms “schizophrenic” and “schizophrenia” in US media found
that 28 percent of references to the condition were casual metaphors...usually about someone
or something seeming to have multiple personalities.
And guess what….schizophrenia has nothing to do AT ALL with having multiple personalities.
This myth may have its origin in the fact that schizophrenia literally means “split
mind”, because the condition is marked by thoughts and behavior that are out of sync
with a person’s actual surroundings and situations. Their mind is split with REALITY...not
with itself.
People suffering from schizophrenia often suffer from delusions, either of grandeur,
like thinking you’re the Queen of England, or of extreme paranoia and persecution -- like
thinking the CIA and the mafia - or both - are out to get you.
People who have schizophrenia are also likely to suffer from hallucinations -- that is,
to see or hear something that isn’t there, while lacking the ability to reliably judge
what is and isn’t real.
So, “schizophrenic” is not a synonym for “inconsistent.” It’s a devastating disease
and one of the leading causes of disability in the world.
Now, speaking of mood swings -- as well as things we shouldn’t use to describe superficial
things, let's talk about bipolar. You may recognize it by its older name -- "manic depression."
But like depression, bipolar is a type of mood disorder.
Our moods are basically long-term emotional states that are pretty subjective and hard
to pin down, but they usually fall within two broad categories with very fancy technical
names -- good and bad.
Mood disorders are marked by emotional extremes and problems in regulating moods.
So, the symptoms of depressive disorders include prolonged feelings of hopelessness and lethargy,
while bipolar disorders are typified by alternating among depressive, manic, and what you might
call more normal or stable phases -- often between phases multiple times a month, week,
or even a single day.
And keep in mind that mania isn’t about being super happy, or energetic. A true manic
episode is an intense period of restless and often overly optimistic hyperactivity, during
which your estimation of yourself and your ideas and your abilities can often get really
skewed.
A person experiencing a manic episode might start feeling awesome, but quickly start to
show some seriously poor judgement as they empty their bank accounts on shopping sprees.
When they come down off that sleepless high, they often fall, hard, into sometimes suicidal
lows.
Which brings us to our final, and perhaps most popular psych term, mis-used since the
days of Alfred Hitchcock: Psycho.
Psychopathy is another outdated term -- it’s more often called sociopathy these days, but
professionals know the condition more technically as antisocial personality disorder.
It’s probably the most extreme and severe type of personality disorder, which are some
of the most difficult disorders to diagnose and, frankly, to live with.
That’s mainly because, unlike most disorders, people with personality disorders often aren’t
aware of their condition. Sometimes, they think it’s everyone else who’s got the
problem.
People with antisocial personality disorder exhibit a lack of conscience, even towards
friends and family members. Their destructive behavior surfaces in childhood or adolescence,
beginning with excessive lying, fighting, stealing, violence, or manipulation.
They basically don’t care about any negative consequences of their actions, and because
they lack the capacity for empathy, they don’t give a dang about you, or anyone else.
So even though we really love Benedict Cumberbatch, his Sherlock Holmes was flat-out wrong when
he described himself as a sociopath.
I mean, just look at how he and Watson get along. It's adorable!
Now, just what causes antisocial disorder or any of the other disorders I’ve mentioned
is complicated, and honestly we have a long way to go in understanding it.
Some conditions seem to be pretty clearly linked to biological factors such as genetics
and brain chemistry, while others seem to stem from specific situations, or environmental
factors, like stress or trauma.
And some cases appear to have roots in both causes: People could have a genetic predisposition
to a condition that tends to run in families, like schizophrenia, but may only have symptoms
if they’re triggered by their surroundings. If you want to learn more about these disorders
and other scientific aspects of your mind, you can head over to Crash Course, where we’ve
been studying psychology all year. But in the end, we’re not here to tell you
how to talk -- or, for that matter, what to be offended by -- we’re just all about understanding
the world around us, including people. And it’s probably fair to say that using clinical
diagnoses to describe haircuts or dishwashing habits only fuels the misunderstanding of
mental illness.
A final note...in general, when talking about people with medical disorders, try not to
let the disorder define them. Instead of saying that someone is a schizophrenic, say that
they have schizophrenia. It's hard enough to try not to become your disease when your
disease is inside your brain; it's even worse when it's inside everyone else's too.
So next time someone is annoying or alarming you with their behavior, allow me to suggest
a thesaurus.
Thanks for watching this SciShow Infusion -- especially to our Subbable subscribers.
To learn how you can support us in exploring the world, just go to subbable.com.
And as always, don’t forget to go to YouTube.com/scishow and subscribe!
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4 Psychological Terms That You're Using Incorrectly

3838 Folder Collection
Eating published on November 4, 2014
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