Mental Health and Language
By : Gauri
Date : 06-05-2020
Why language Matters
Language can be extremely tricky, especially when we are using it in the context to describe mental illnesses. “I had an insane amount of work today”, “The event was crazy fun”- while these sentences may sound completely normal and are ingrained in our everyday language, we could reinforce negative stereotypes when they are used in sensitive areas, particularly while talking about mental health. Of course, we do not intend to upset or offend anyone, but the words we use certainly have a powerful impact on how people view mental health in general.
Despite the progress, we have made in the past decade or so, the stigma attached to mental illness still remains quite intact. To combat this stigma, it is important to consciously change the language we use- be more sensitive and respectful. The language we use can have an impact on recovery. Here are a few things to keep in mind while addressing mental health-related issues:
1. People are not their illness:
“He is schizophrenic” may sound like an accurate way to describe someone, but this is one of the most common mistakes that needs to be avoided. Defining people by a condition can strip away all other positive qualities from them. Instead, using the phrase “X is suffering from schizophrenia” could throw light on their condition while also showing that this is just one of the many characteristics they possess.
2. Sensitivity while using words:
We all have been guilty of using mental health-related terms as a part of everyday language, at some point in our lives. You may have termed someone you do not like a psycho or called yourself “a bit OCD” if you are someone who is orderly and neat. While these are just lighthearted comments on your part, they can lead to a serious problem in spreading misinformation about mental health. It can delegitimize serious concerns and can certainly make it look like the person experiencing it is doing it out of choice. You wouldn’t ask someone to “snap out” if they’re suffering from appendicitis. Mental health should be treated just like physical health. So next time, you know someone suffering from depression or anxiety, be more sensitive.
3. Talking about suicide:
Another sensitive topic out there is a suicide, making it critical for all of us to respond to it without actually glamorizing it in any way. In addition to that, movies and books also romanticize the idea of suicide creating a wrong picture of the issue. What we really have to understand is that people who try to take their life do not really want to die; they just want their problem to go away. Therefore, such acts should be taken more seriously and not just dismissed as attention-seeking. Avoid using phrases such as “failed or incomplete suicide attempt” which makes it seem like a task that needs to be completed. Instead, use more neutral wording such as “a non-fatal attempt at suicide” or “an attempt to end his/her life”.
4. Handling Depression:
According to an article published in the Economic Times on Mental Health, about 7.5% of the Indian population suffers from some form of mental illness. A study conducted by the World Health Organization revealed that around 200 million people in India suffer from Depression. Depression can make a person feel extremely dejected and lonely. Therefore it is important to remember not to use terms like, “just cheer up” which could make people feel worse and bring in a sense of guilt for not enjoying the present moment. Instead, use “I care” that will show them that you will be there for them no matter what.
5. What’s in a name? Everything:
We often label people with a mental condition as “victim” and “sufferer” which could make the person feel helpless and can perpetuate a downward spiral of negative thoughts. A person with asthma or glaucoma is not considered to be a victim of their condition. Alternatively, you can use phrases like “ they are experiencing”, “they are being treated for” or “they have a history of” which is far more appropriate. Additionally, it is better to avoid the term “mental illness” since people experience mental distress, but this does not necessarily mean that they are ill. You could make use of the term “mental health problem” instead.
6. Language that is inclusive:
At the end of the day, no one should feel like they are being excluded because they are suffering from mental health problems. It is also important that, as a society, we do not turn a blind eye to this and instead use language for promoting acceptance and inclusivity rather than creating barriers.
“Words can inspire. And words can destroy. Choose yours wisely.”
– Robin Sharma
Birla, N. (2019, October 10). Mental health in India: 7.5% of the country affected; less than 4,000 experts available. Retrieved from https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/magazines/panache/mental-health-in-india-7-5-of-country-affected-less-than-4000-experts-available/articleshow/71500130.cms?from=mdr
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Financial Express. (2019, March 27). Around 200 million people in India suffer from depression! Are Indians taking their Mental Health seriously? Retrieved from https://www.financialexpress.com/lifestyle/health/around-200-million-people-in-india-suffer-from-depression-are-indians-taking-their-mental-health-seriously/1529675/
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