HEALTHY LIVING

When Is It OK To Claim You're 'Having A Panic Attack?'

Spoiler alert: When you're actually having one.

17/02/2016 12:12 AM AEDT | Updated 17/02/2016 12:12 AM AEDT

• Throwing around mental health-related terms in a casual manner perpetuates a negative stereotype about people with mental illness.
• Nearly 40 million American adults are affected by anxiety disorders and approximately six million suffer from panic disorders.
• Common symptoms include labored breathing, dizziness, trembling and racing thoughts.

Collectively, we have a nasty habit of misusing mental health words to explain a situation or experience. If you change your mind, you're "bipolar." If you're hyper-organized, you're "OCD." And if you're in a stressful situation, you're "having a panic attack."

Not only is it a little dramatic, it could diminish someone who actually suffers from a mental health condition. This is especially true when it comes to debilitating panic episodes. 

It's hard enough managing crippling episodes of panic and fear -- imagine having someone who doesn't even know what it's like use the term as a joke. As Rebecca Fuoco, a health communications specialist and mental health advocate, explained in a HuffPost blog, using mental illness as a figure of speech can be incredible damaging.

"The more the names of mental illnesses occur in our conversations as facetious self-diagnoses and misappropriated adjectives, the more difficult we make it for those with clinical diagnoses to speak out and be heard," she wrote.

Not sure if you should use the term to describe a situation or experience? We've got you covered. Below we've created a handy flowchart to help you determine when it's actually appropriate to say that you're having a panic attack:

Alissa Scheller / The Huffington Post

Throwing around mental health-related terms in a casual manner can be dangerous. It not only perpetuates a negative stereotype about people with mental illness, but the stigma associated with it may prevent them from seeking treatment.

Nearly 40 million American adults are affected by anxiety disorders and approximately 6 million American adults suffer from panic disorders. A common symptom of the conditions includes panic attacks, which causes the sufferer to experience labored breathing, dizziness, trembling and racing thoughts.

The sooner we all start taking mental health seriously -- and treating it sensitively -- the better the culture will be around mental illness. Simple as that.


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