Changing the Language We Use Around Mental Health

There is a fine line between being offended and feeling hurt.

This is something I want to make clear here. Anyone with a computer is familiar with the “offended by everything we don’t like” brigade on social media. This irritates me, I know parts of this post may seem contractionary but I understand where both sides of the argument are coming from so I want to explore them equally. I’ll talk about that a bit but that’s not exactly what this post is about.

It is more about the bullshit way people use language associated with mental health problems in a context that causes a deep stigma. I’m not trying to change the world here, if you use this kind of language I doubt after reading this, you will have an epiphany and change your vocabulary forever more. But please be careful about who you use these words around, if you think you don’t know anybody with mental health problems, 1 in 4 people are affected by ill mental health so chances are you’re mistaken.

Stigma is defined by being a “mark of disgrace associated with a particular circumstance”, basically it is discrimination. Stigma around mental health is the main reason people do not seek help when they are experiencing problems. What does not getting help when you are mentally ill commonly lead to? That’s right suicide. You can probably see by now where I am going with this; Using derogatory terms associated with mental health problems causes stigma which stops people getting help and then we sit and scratch our heads wondering why so many people are dying through suicide.

I will hold my hands up that I have accidently or ignorantly used these terms myself on occasion. It is an easy mistake to make but I try. That is all I ask, try to avoid saying things that you know have a negative impact on others health and wellbeing. My blog is called Pretty SANE; I post memes about mental health which lots of other mental health advocates that I am friends with also do. Tongue-in-cheek and light humour are one thing but we all draw the line at using highly inappropriate and hurtful content. I am not telling people what to do. I’m not in the business of telling people that they should have opinions as long as they are the same as my own. I am just suggesting, instead of saying “the weather is so bi-polar today” try “the weather is so unpredictable today” 

Separate from that you may be familiar with all the humour around tumblr and overly offended people. In my opinion, speaking completely on a personal level, I think people need to calm the fuck down when it comes to complaining about stuff online. It’s like crying wolf, when you actually are deeply upset over something you are less likely to be taken seriously. Yes, people make fun of things they that shouldn’t. Some people intentionally try to offend online, just don’t feed the trolls. If they want to be a dick that’s their own business. But some people make genuine mistakes because they are human and all. Attacking their twitter, branding them a horrible person for just one decision they made which they probably regret is not going to make your life any better. Internet lynch mobs are wrong, attacking people who say things you don’t agree with just makes you become a bully yourself. There is no point in being all politically correct if you only see the world from your own point of view, you need to accept people will not always have the same opinion as you. If you see something online that you find genuinely hurtful, then by all means. But if you are finding everything and anything offensive and commenting TRIGGERED on any mildly upsetting thing, practice detachment. You cannot force people to see the world the way you do.

Accidently saying the wrong thing can happen to anyone. Words like “crazy” “mad” or “mental” are obvious ones but I would like to go through a few not so obvious ones just to make the whole changing the language around mental health easier.I’m going to start with my number one, most hated and annoying misused word that actually makes my blood boil – Psychotic

This word means someone (ahem me) who is currently experiencing symptoms of psychosis. I am psychotic right now because there are three voices in my head who have been having a little chat whist I’m typing this post. Psychotic is not angry or someone acting strange or being malicious or mean or hyper or whatever else. So if some girl is spreading rumours about you and stalking your boyfriend, I feel bad for you she sounds like a bitch but is she psychotic? Nooooooo.

Avoid “schizo” or “schizophrenic” try using person with Schizophrenia or person living with Schizophrenia. The latter term does not bother me too much but it does upset other people with my illness because it makes it sound like a description of who we are when Schizophrenia is just a condition we have. Which is understandably annoying.

“He committed suicide” is a massive no-no, suicide is not a crime so he/she did not “commit” anything. He or she died by suicide. Using words as though he/she committed a sin are disrespectful to his or her memory and those grieving them. Try to be careful with that.

Bi-polar and Schizophrenia are not a split or multiple personality or having two minds. If you thought, they were until you read that sentence. OCD is not the same as being a clean freak. Generalised Anxiety Disorder is not an emotion. Read more about these here  and here  

If you have ever experienced ill mental health I am guessing, you probably went through a phase of self-stigmatising. The “am I going crazy?” “I must be mental” “What if I end up locked up in a nut house” The reason you had these thoughts is just you reclaiming words and phrases you have been generally hearing people say your entire life. Ask yourself did it make you even a teeny bit reluctant to get help. Did it make you hesitate to tell someone you are having problems or maybe it completely stopped you seeking help for a long time. This is what happens when we use the wrong language to talk to about mental health.

Just my little rant for the day. Try to be conscious of the language you use and avoid using terms that may be emotionally harmful to others. And on the other side of the argument, just do you and try to ignore the trolls

Until next time

Keep Shining On



3 thoughts on “Changing the Language We Use Around Mental Health

  1. This makes sense and I’m guilty of using those phrases. I’ll have to be careful in the future.
    Post more stories about you, lots of them. I find you to be very honest and interesting.


  2. Hi there- I was looking for opinions on mental illness (it’s part of a wee project I’m pushing at the moment) and just want to see I agree with this a lot 🙂 mental health does not define people unless we allow it to, like anything else, and it’s not by definition “bad” (some of the most excellent people I know take medication for BPD and the like). Thanks for getting this out there.

    On a side-note, would it be cool if I sent you a link to the project I mentioned? It’s nothing big, just asking around for views and thoughts on mental illness that I can put in a single image, which I’ll then share as best I can to help raise awareness and get more people thinking (alongside pages like this). You can click on my username to find it too, but it’s more polite to ask anyhow 🙂


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