Why The Language We Use To Talk About Mental Health Matters

Mental health.

It isn’t something I have talked about all that much on here but my own battles with mental health are something that I have written about before. In January this year, I was diagnosed with OCD and alongside that, General Anxiety Disorder.

We can’t say that mental health is not talked about anymore. It is talked about, a lot. But, is it in the right way, or is it sending out mixed messages?

Mental health covers such a broad spectrum of feelings and conditions, that it can be hard to write succinctly about it. When we talk about mental health, we are talking about every aspect of our emotions and our mind. While some seem to be seen as more important or serious than others – OCD is pretty far down that list – but there is no prescribed condition that encompasses mental health.

When we talk about mental health, we almost never talk about it in a positive light. Mental health is a negative term; when used, we automatically assume we are discussing someone with poor mental health. In contrast, when we talk about physical health, we are usually assuming it is someone fit and healthy. The words and phrases and general language that we use and associate with mental health don’t seem important, but in the grand scheme of things, they are.

Words and phrases make a huge difference.

language mental health
Photo by Polina Zimmerman from Pexels

I very recently wrote about using if and but when discussing breastfeeding, and how small words can change the meaning of something. It’s the same when it comes to mental health. The language that we use matters.

It really fucking matters.

Psycho. Loony. Schizo.

All once perfectly acceptable words to use in everyday language, but now adds to the stigma and can be a huge barrier to seeking help. I’m not wholly innocent; I describe my OCD medication as my ‘crazy meds’. I kid myself that it is a way of taking back the word and making me feel better, but really, I am just adding to the problem. There will be a bunch of people who read this will and will think ‘snowflake – they are just words’, but think about how words have changed in meaning and context over the years. R*t*rd, for example – a vile word, but one that not all that long ago was used commonplace. We now know better, and therefore should do better.

It is as simple as not using the phrase ‘committed suicide’, and instead, describing it as dying by suicide or taking their own life. Committing suicide came about when doing so was considered a crime and a sin. It wasn’t until 1961 that the law was changed. By still using the term committed, it is hard to shake off that stigma of not only being so depressed that they feel there is no way out but sounding like a criminal as well.

It is also important to think about the language that you use to describe someone who experiences a mental health condition. If you don’t have mental health issues, it might not seem a big deal, but when it feels like it is such a big part of you, being described as your illness is pretty shit. I am not an OCD sufferer or OCD person. I am a person with OCD. Try to ensure that when talking about mental health, you humanize the sentence construction. The person goes first because the person is not the illness.

Try to ensure that when talking about mental health, you humanize the sentence construction. The person goes first because the person is not the illness. Click To Tweet

One of my biggest sources of irritation and one that I will pull anyone up on is using the term OCD as an adjective. When people like to clean their house or organize their cupboards and they describe themselves or their actions as ‘a bit OCD’. Well, no. You can’t be ‘a bit’ obsessive-compulsive disorder. It is not an adjective; it is a debilitating mental health issue that can prevent someone from living a normal life. Using it incorrectly as a description for normal behaviour minimises the condition, so those of us who have OCD struggle to get ourselves taken seriously.

You can't be 'a bit' obsessive-compulsive disorder. It is not an adjective; it is a debilitating mental health issue that can prevent someone from living a normal life Click To Tweet

We have a long way to go when it comes to the language that we use around mental health but the first step is to recognise that it is something that we all need to work on and change and that it does matter.

2 thoughts on “Why The Language We Use To Talk About Mental Health Matters

  1. Completely agree, I think although mental health is talked about more there is still so many misconceptions, it’s not a one size fits all. Everybody who has suffered mental health conditions have experienced it in their own individual way and I feel that the media don’t explore this side of the story.

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