Mind Your Language: Why the Way We Talk About Mental Health Has to Change

Mind Your Language: Why the Way We Talk About Mental Health Has to Change

How many times have you said ‘I’m a bit OCD’ flippantly? Most of us probably have and while it might not seem like a big issue, the language we use when we’re speaking about mental health is. The truth is that referring to people with mental health problems as ‘nutters’ or ‘loonies’ only serves to further stigmatise some of the most discriminated against people in society.

The more stigma and discrimination people face, the less willing they’ll be to talk about their problems and seek help.

The language used in the press

Whether it’s a headline about a ‘madman,’ or highly insensitive headlines about people in the public eye, the way people with mental illnesses are depicted in the press adds to the stigma and fear around mental illness and those who have it. They are described as being mad, bad, and dangerous. When the boxer Frank Bruno was sectioned under the Mental Health Act in 2003, the Sun’s headline was ‘Bonkers Bruno Locked Up’-not exactly the enlightened response that we would hope for.

How we can change the way we talk about mental health

Stop labelling people as diseases: Instead of labelling someone as ‘a schizophrenic,’ say ‘this person has schizophrenia.’ Acknowledge the person before their illness and realise that they are not their illness; their illness is something they are living with or suffering from.

Avoid using words like ‘crazy’ or ‘psycho’: These derogatory terms get bandied around and they might become embedded in our language from an early age, but it’s up to us to realise that they have negative connotations and add to stigma. Educate yourself on how to talk about mental health by reading about the subject or by completing some Mental Health Awareness Training.

Reach out: Not talking about mental health at all can be just as bad as using the wrong words when we do. Reach out to friends, family, or colleagues when you’re feeling not quite right, and ask them how they are. Sometimes it can be as simple as that. Many people struggle with knowing what to say when someone they know or love is ill, especially if they’re in a crisis. Mental Health First Aid Training can be an invaluable tool to help you know what to say and do, and how to support someone as well as looking after yourself.

Celebrate the achievements of people with mental health problems: Many people think that people with mental health problems can’t work, maintain relationships, or function, but in fact, you probably know many people in the public eye who suffer from mental illness yet have achieved great things. How many authors, actors, musicians, and artists can you think of who have mental health problems yet have contributed so much to society?

Yes talking about mental health can be scary, especially if you lack knowledge about it, and that’s why arming yourself with as much knowledge as possible is the best way that you can help to tackle stigma and encourage people to talk about their problems.

Let’s start a conversation around mental health, using kind and sensitive words only, please.


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Bridget Woodhead