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Are You Suffering?

Posted Sep 29 2008 11:55pm

Okay, I need to air a pet peeve of mine because it has been bugging me more and more as I’ve been looking at unfamiliar blogs. Please do not take offense, as it is not directed at one person, but it shows how the words we use can make subtle differences in the way in which we view and approach others. There are many phrases that mental health professionals and non-professionals use that I do not think are very helpful or are condescending, but I’ll admit to using them too with other professionals because there is instantaneous understanding. However, the phrase I am referring to does not help in that manner.

The phrase is “suffering from.” In very rare cases, do I think that this is an appropriate term to use. But, I really understand people using it and I know that it is old language and comes from the medical model. However, I’d like you maybe to think about the words that you choose. I’ve been reading things like “Those suffering from borderline personality disorder,” “I suffer from bipolar disorder, and “My patient suffers from depression.” Oh, that is like nails on a chalk board to me.

My problem with it is that is seems to automatically set up roles for a victim role, that the person is always suffering and is a victim of the illness. Which to me, would also imply that therapist subtly views the client as a victim and herself as the one to rescue the victim from the illness. Yes, there is a power differential in a client/therapist relationship, but it is not one that most call attention to at this level. It is usually a team effort. To me, it comes across as a bit condescending and it also makes me feel a bit defeated by my illness. My illness does not define me should be the primary focus of who I am. It is simply one of my characteristics.

Whose business is it to say that “I am suffering from depression.” Yes, I am a person diagnosed with a major depressive disorder which, at times, is excruciating. However, I may be managing, may be struggling, may be coping or may be in a really deep depression and in great pain. To me those are much more accurate and descriptive phrases. They also make me feel more like a person instead of the focus being on my illness.

Do we tell people that they are suffering from diabetes, from heart disease, from a broken leg, or a sprain ankle? What kind of subtle message do we send. You are a victim of your illness. Everyone who has this illness must, feel as if they are suffering. I don’t know maybe I just get lost in the semantics of it all.

But, please do not refer to me as suffering from major depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. I am a person who has been diagnosed with major depression and post-traumatic stress disorder which is very difficult for me to manage, but I actually have a great life except for the symptoms from my illnesses. Just changing a few words can make all the difference in the way someone feels or views themself.

Thanks for reading my vent…time to get off my soapbox. Next?
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