I mentioned this at a Gen Con panel, and Mike Shel made some great additional comments that prompted this post. There are three big ways that writers fuck up when it comes to mental illnesses (and media in general, thus people in general).
Schizophrenia doesn’t mean Dissociative Identity Disorder
Not only do people use them interchangeably, but some also use schizophrenia as a synonym for hallucinations (which is a part of, but not the whole of, this condition). And folks use dissociative identity disorder to mean full-blown “fully realized identities who aren’t aware of each other” conditions, which is the rarer form of this.
If you’re a writer on one of my projects, and you pull one of these out, you’ve better goddamn well know what you’re talking about. And even then, I’m going to give your usage a hairy eyeball because so many people don’t actually know what these conditions mean — a casual use of the word “schizophrenia” will conjure completely contrary thoughts in the head of far too many readers.
Asocial doesn’t mean Antisocial
Many people use “antisocial” to mean “this person doesn’t like hanging around with people/is a recluse/is an introvert.” Everyone who does sounds like a moron, because antisocial personality disorder is a condition that is closer to being a sociopath than it is to being someone who doesn’t like leaving the house.
Here’s more about asociality. And while I’m generally loathe to quote Wikipedia, in this case it’s spot on:
Asocial is distinct from antisocial as the latter implies an active misanthropy or antagonism toward other people or the general social order.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
Unless you seriously do your research, don’t even go here. Why? Because many people with PTSD play our games. Many of them are soldiers. How about not trivializing the shit they go through. And this isn’t just being politically correct — do you really want to anger armed individuals who have been trained in combat?
In general, if you’re going to throw around mental illnesses and disorders, do your damn homework and make sure you can portray it in a way that will properly get past any erroneous preconceived notions that various readers will have. And it’s very easy to look like a moron to those who do know about the subject matter. Let’s make characters, not caricatures.
What other ways have you seen?