Stick and stones: how nicknames can harm someone’s mental health

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Coworkers eating togetherIn many of our daily interactions we use labels as shortcuts to describe a collection of feelings, observations and reactions. Usually these manifest in affectionate (or sometimes mean) nicknames we give our close friends or colleagues. These names often enough tend to be actual diagnostic terms that randomly label someone based on their behaviour: OCD is used to identify a friend who constantly frets over whether his bike is securely locked or not; ADHD is used to label a co-worker who rarely stays focused or who arrives to work late on a regular basis. Mental health nicknaming poses a dual problem: it can hurt those randomly assigned serious mental health conditions, as well as for harm those who were professionally diagnosed and living with a condition.

When talking about Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) , Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), we may be using these terms to describe a momentary situation or an observation, however for individuals living with the reality of a formal diagnosis, their experiences can become unpredictably challenging. Life can be difficult for them and for those who love and take care of them. An uninformed or amateur opinion of one’s mental status can lead to unneeded, unnecessary, or even tragic consequences. Whether it is a physical or a mental health issue, it is important to have the correct information and to review it with someone who has the knowledge and qualifications to advise on the next steps.

If you are concerned that you or a loved one may be experiencing symptoms associated with OCD, ADHD, PTSD or any other mental health issue, reach out to your health practitioner or your EAP. An open discussion with a qualified mental health professional will help guide you to next steps to health.


By Noi Quao. Noi has over 25 years’ experience working and supporting individuals though crisis situations and traumatic events. Noi has been with Shepell since 2001. Currently, he oversees strategic operations of Traumatic Event Support Services, and the provision on-site response to client organizations and their employees that experience any kind of traumatic event across Canada and internationally.


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