Your reality is formed largely by the language used to describe what is around you. When it comes to mental health, the language we use can have a profound impact on how we think about and treat these conditions. Research has shown that the way we talk about mental health can influence our attitudes towards those who suffer from these conditions. Here’s five ways we can change the way we talk about mental health in order to improve the way we research and treat different illnesses!
- Journalism and media consumption! The way we report on issues involving mental health can largely influence the way the general public thinks about it. In one study, participants were asked to read either a positive or negative newspaper article about people with schizophrenia. Those who read the positive article subsequently expressed more favorable attitudes towards people with this condition than those who read the negative article. It is important to be critical of the media you are consuming and be aware of whether the language they use to cover mental health is positive or negative.
- Take diagnosis seriously! The language we use can affect how willing we are to seek help for mental health issues. A survey of college students found that those who used words like "depression" and "anxiety" were more likely to say they would seek counseling than those who used terms like "sadness" and "nervousness." This suggests that using more clinical terms may make us more aware of serious psychological problems and therefore more likely to seek professional help.
- Avoid judgmental or negative language. Words like "crazy," "psychotic," or "mental" carry a lot of baggage and can be quite hurtful. Instead, opt for neutral terms like "mental illness" or "mental health condition." When it comes to mental health, the words we use can have a big impact. Words like “crazy” or “mental” can be negative and hurtful, reinforcing the stigma around mental illness. For people living with mental illness, these terms can be particularly damaging. They suggest that there is something wrong with them, that they are not in control of their own thoughts and emotions. This can lead to feelings of shame and isolation, and make it less likely for people to seek help. It’s important to remember that mental illness is not a choice. It is a real medical condition that should be treated with compassion and understanding. By using more positive language when talking about mental health, we can help break down the barriers that prevent people from getting the help they need.
- Be respectful of people's privacy. Mental illness is often stigmatized, so avoid asking intrusive questions or making assumptions about someone's personal life. If someone wants to share their experiences with you, they will do so on their own terms.
- Know that you can inquire about someone else’s mental illness in a way that makes them feel comfortable talking about it. For instance, you can avoid making assumptions. It can be easy to jump to conclusions when we see someone behaving in a way that is out of the ordinary for them. However, it's important to remember that there could be many reasons for this behavior and not all of them may be related to mental illness. Ask open-ended questions that give the person an opportunity to share what is going on with you. A second approach that’s important to keep in mind, is being respectful and nonjudgmental. When approaching someone about their possible mental illness, it is crucial that you do so in a respectful manner. This means using language that is free from judgment or stigma surrounding mental illness. For example, rather than asking "what's wrong with you?" try saying something like "I noticed that you've been acting differently lately and I just wanted to check in with you." Finally, you can listen more than you speak. Once the person has started sharing information with you, resist the urge to offer advice or tell them what they should do. Instead, focus on listening attentively and showing empathy towards whatever they are dealing with. Remember that they are the expert on their own experience and will likely know better than anyone else what kind of support they need at this time.
Of course, not everyone responds to language in the same way. Some people may find certain terms offensive while others may find them empowering. Ultimately, what's most important is that we are respectful of individual preferences and open to changing our own vocabulary if it will help create a more supportive environment for discussing and treating mental health.