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It is great to see the conversation around mental health gaining momentum.
To reduce common misconceptions and stigma surrounding mental ill-health, we must share experiences and honesty around it – however, words matter.
As someone who has lived experience of mental illness, I understand the importance of using the right terms when speaking of my mental health to ensure that I don’t inadvertently perpetuate age-old stigma.
Here’s some common phrases / words that should or shouldn’t be used.
I suffer from mental health.
Mental health is an overarching term, not a diagnosis. Mental health can be good, bad, or somewhere in the middle – just like our physical health. If someone had a headache, would they say they suffered from physical health?
It may seem like such a small thing, however, this leads to people who do not have mental ill-health saying “I don’t have mental health,” yet we all have mental health. Each and every one of us, young or not-so-young.
Everyone has the right to privacy, so we are not suggesting that everyone should state their diagnoses, depression, anxiety, bipolar etc.. we are saying that when talking about poor mental health, the way in which we should be describing it needs to change.
I have poor mental health
I am struggling with my mental health
I have/I struggle with mental ill-health
I have a mental illness
The above terms are a more accurate way of talking about mental ill-health.
She/he suffers from…
Suffering is subjective. I know that my colleagues have mental illnesses, however, only they know if they suffer. Likewise, I have mental illnesses however, no one but me knows if I suffer. Equally, there may be days I suffer and there may be days that I might struggle, but do not suffer. It is not our place to label other’s experiences.
The term “committed” came from the time in our history where suicide was a crime. As archaic as that may sound, it was true. Now, we must change this language so we are not blaming the person. Here’s some alternatives:
Died by suicide
Whilst I personally do not use the bottom term, the MHFA suggests using completed suicide as it is a neutral term. The main emphasis with all of the phrases is to note the pain behind the person and to not treat it as a crime.
There are many phrases that should not be used towards another with mental illness, or even as generic turns of phrase in any environment – such as “take a chill pill” or “someone’s not taken their happy pills” or “I’m a bit OCD” or any variation thereof.
If we are mindful of the words and phrases we use, we can reduce stigma and thus eliminate the silence of those who are struggling to speak up because of the stigma they face in society today.
Remember: words matter.
Author: Sammie, The Creative Mental Health Charity
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