What Is Normal?

Real Relationship Advice

As both scientists and writers nothing drives us to distraction more than someone usurping the use of a technical word and giving it a meaning that it should not have. If you are going to use a word then use it right. Since we are writing about mental health this week, we thought this would be a great time to clear up some vocabulary issues. You see, people generally do not use words from quantum physics but they bastardize psychology lingo all of the time.

Let’s start with the word normal. ‘What is normal? There is no such thing. Everyone’s a little abnormal.’ This was always a fun line of reasoning when we taught kids during their hormone induced rebellion phase. Normal is a mathematical word. Not only is there such a thing as normal but is can be calculated with high precision. If we have 100 people and we ask them a question, we can calculate the average answer. A couple of standard deviation on either side is normal. Normal is a math function but normal does not mean that it is right or healthy. Fifty percent of marriages end in divorce. This is normal but it is not the goal of a couple. Forty percent of transgender people try to commit suicide. This is not healthy but it is normal. In an Orwellian society where we can collect real time data constantly, normal would change with the mood of the people.

Now that we have a concept of normal, let’s talk about depression. People screw up this word all of the time. Depression is a clinical diagnosis. You cannot be diagnosed major depression today and not have it tomorrow. You are sad. Sad is an emotion that is both normal and healthy. If a person is grieving, they should be sad but they are not necessarily depressed. Depression is abnormal. (When you read the word ‘abnormal’ did you think the word ‘wrong’? If you did, stop it. Abnormal means that most people are not depressed. This is all. They are not broken. )

Also, you are not schizo or bipolar ,nor do you have ADD, unless you went to a doctor and you were diagnosed against some very specific criteria. Schizophrenia is a very severe brain disorder that can show up on a CAT scan. Not all people with a mental illness are schizophrenic and using the term flippantly is kind of scary to anyone in the know. You wouldn’t say that you are feeling all cancery today, would you? ‘I got my terminal cancer on today.’  All of these are real disorders with real consequences.

One of the reasons that we are writing about this is because we are advocates of therapy and taking care of both your normal and abnormal emotional issues. It is really hard to get people to go to a mental health professional when every mental issue, from severe mental health disorders to normal and healthy emotional processes, are lumped into the same category. If a hang nail and pancreatic cancer were lumped into the same category, no one would ever see a doctor. The stigma and fear would be too great. So we are writing this to ask everyone to do what they can to remove the shame and fear from mental health. Remember, we all want to be happy.


  • Confuzed

    I think this is a very valid stance; however, the phrase “You see, people generally do not use words from quantum physics but they bastardize psychology lingo all of the time.” is not a well rounded supporting statement.
    Of course people do not use lingo from quantum physics, they would have to have a vague idea of what quantum physics is and what vocabulary it is comprised of before they can start abusing it.  On the flip side nearly every person in western society has been touched by the vocabulary used in psychology–through school, family friends suffering from psychological issues, being accused of the related illnesses, or actually suffering from them.
    Statistically we all show traits of one mental illness or another, whether the traits are subtle or pronounced, which is logical. Majority of mental illnesses are extreme variations on the ‘normal’ and ‘healthy’ traits that make up the human psyche,which we all have, resulting in the terms becoming hackneyed and socially acceptable as a conversational hyperboles. Once there is a knowledge base, no matter how small, it is simple to embellish and enhance to the point of absurdity.
    The abuse is really not surprising considering how apt our culture is to blame socially unacceptable behavior on an uncontrollable condition, transforming the unacceptable person to acceptable in the form of a victim, rather than accepting the fact that some people are not held accountable for their actions.
    Hoping off my soap box, I do agree with the point you are making I just feel that the aforementioned phrase undermined the validity of your stance by placing the entire argument in a victim light that is so blatantly relatable to those who flippantly use psychology’s lingo as excuses for the less socially acceptable behavior they display from time to time.

  • ConnieFoggles

    I love that you’re sharing information that when misinterpreted can cause harm. Words are important and the proper use of them can make a big difference. Thanks for being an advocate.

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