Written by Alyssa Friedman
Not too long ago I was sitting in class with a professor I very much respect.
She is well-liked by her students, has a great sense of humour to break up the dry course material, and has a list of accomplishments that make her well known in her field. However, her choice of words on a random Wednesday completely changed the way I viewed her for the rest of class.
My professor was ranting about her favourite show and how she recently heard it was being taken off of Netflix- a typical funny conversation that many of us students could easy relate to. In a split second, I went from laughing along with my classmates to sitting in silence among a laughing crowd when my professor spoke the words, “Seriously, when I first heard about it I almost had a panic attack”. I remember that as soon as I let her words process in my mind I became uncomfortable. Palms sweaty. Heart pounding. What my professor did not know was on that day in particular, I used all of my energy to get to class. I was having a low day where just the thought of going to class was raising my anxiety. My entire drive to school I was talking myself into making it to class, knowing that it was something I needed to do. I fought back with all of my might a full-on panic attack, yet with my professor’s simple words, I felt that my disorder was belittled.
There are many mental illnesses that are used as adjectives or figures of speech in today’s culture, and that contributes to why there is such a stigma surrounding mental illnesses. The lack of understanding of mental illnesses results in them being tossed around without thinking about the consequences. Whether my professor understands the severity of panic attacks or not, her choice of words made it seem like a panic attack is a little “freak out” moment that can be easily recovered from.
Overall this experience taught me that there needs to be more advocacy for mental health.
My professor had no idea what I experienced before going to class, but her words were upsetting to me and possibly others in my class. Today, I challenge you to be mindful of your word choice, knowing that one quick sentence can affect someone more than you know.