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How Not To Talk About Mental Health

man talks with another man about mental health

How we talk about mental health matters. Unfortunately, too often many people use stigmatizing language when they talk about mental health, mental illnesses, substance use disorders, or suicide. “Our words frame and reflect our understanding (and misunderstanding) about illness,” says David Bjerklie, author of “Finding the right words” for TIME Magazine’s Special Edition: Mental Health. “But they also drive that understanding. Scary words elicit scary feelings; ugly words, ugly feelings. Word fuel stigma, but they can also protect, in ways we are just beginning to appreciate. Vocabulary matters.” Arbor Behavioral Healthcare agrees. We know that how you say something is just as important as what you are saying. Continue reading to learn more about how not to talk about mental health. 

How to Avoid Using Stigma in Mental Health

Many people who may not understand the nuances of mental health may fear those with mental illnesses. Some may not understand, but others may be truly trying to be cruel. “We are often afraid of people with mental disorders,” says Bjerklie. “We fear their unpredictability and our inability to fully comprehend their illness. We fear what looks like volitional behavior.” In contrast, a heart attack or a tumor or diabetes is not something someone wishes they had or fakes. It’s something that can be seen in physical symptoms and the treatment the person receives. But when it comes to a mental illness, people are often told to “buckle down [and] get a grip.” This is what we should not say when we are talking about mental health. Would you tell a person having a heart attack to buckle down and get a grip? What about a person with cancer? Or someone with diabetes? You wouldn’t tell them to will their way through their illness, so why do we say the same things to someone with an invisible one? Another part of language some use to talk about mental health is stigmatizing. It’s not just ‘crazy,’ ‘kooky’ or ‘bonkers,’ which have little intrinsic meaning outside of their applications to mental illness. There are ‘cracked, ‘unhinged’ and ‘unbalanced,’ words for a thing that is broken. There are ‘deranged,’ ‘unsound’ and berserk,’ words of imminent meaning. And there are words that strip humanity entirely: the person who ‘goes ape,’ the person who is ‘batty.’ Imagine referring to a cancer patient as some kind of animal,” says Bjerklie. “We don’t. We wouldn’t. But the person with a mental illness? Sure.” Of course, Bjerklie’s “sure” is sarcastic. Why is it acceptable to refer to anyone like an animal? It isn’t, so let’s stop acting like it is.   

Arbor Behavioral Healthcare is here to help educate you and your loved ones when it comes to mental health. We can also help when symptoms show up. Call us today at 844-413-2690. We can’t wait to hear from you!