Most people on being asked about some words that they associate with the word
‘mental’ respond with ‘crazy,’ ‘nuts,’ ‘psychotic’ or ‘mad.’ This is how we come to realize that our brain automatically gives mental health such a negative connotation that we unknowingly add to the stigma that surrounds mental health. In order to make sure that we do not end up adding to the existing stigma or negatively impact the people around us, especially those struggling with their mental health, we have to be conscious of the language used by us to describe mental health and also recognize its importance. Here are some dos and don’ts to follow while talking about mental health.
Don’t use: We often say that someone has “committed suicide”. The use of the word ‘committed’ implies that suicide is a crime or sin that one commits. Suicide is neither.
Use: Instead of using the above-mentioned phrase, use phrases such as “took his/ her own life”, “ended his/her own life” or even “died by suicide”.
Don’t use: Refrain from using phrases that label a person by their mental illness and those that neglect the possibility of them getting better, causing others to feel as if their experiences are going to last a lifetime. For example: “she is a depressed person”, “he is suffering from depression” or “they are a victim of depression”.
Use: Switch to using neutral phrases such as, “she is being treated for depression”,
“he is living with depression” or “they have a diagnosis of depression”.
Don’t use: Identifying someone as simply a “patient” or “schizophrenic” implies that this is all the person is- that this diagnosis defines them. Instead, describing someone as experiencing mental illness can help to allow for other parts of their identity to still exist.
Use: “people who use mental health services”, “people who experience mental health problems”, “people living with a mental health condition”.
Don’t use: We often use the term “normal behavior” which can be defined as any behavior or condition which is expected or conforms to a pre-existing standard.
Use: “Typical behavior”. There is no clear definition of what “normal” is. It can cause others to feel defensive if their experience is classified as not fitting into the category of “normal.” Using “typical” is less critical.
When talking about mental health and various mental health conditions we also have to keep in mind that a phrase which one person is comfortable with, could trigger another. Some people may instead choose to talk about mental ill-health and some may choose to use “mental health problems”. Some people reject the labels of diagnosis while others find it helpful. A label is simply a word or phrase used to describe or classify a person or group. Example: “You should’ve seen the way she had mood swings today, she’s definitely bipolar”. Labels lead to prejudicial attitudes toward and negative treatment of people whose behavior is deemed “undesirable” by society and propagate the idea that the person exhibiting such behavior is in need of corrective action. On the other hand, classification of individuals into categories by psychologists and psychiatrists is a form of labeling referred to as diagnosis. Diagnostics deliver information that can benefit patients by enabling the selection of the right treatment, helping health professionals to choose appropriate preventive interventions and providing vital prognostic data that can optimize care pathways and management. We should respect every individual and the words they choose to describe their own journey with mental health even if their choice of words/ phrases differ from ours. Taking such steps will definitely help us all to come together in creating an emotionally safer society for all!
-Avika Lohia (Youth-Pro Volunteer)