We construct our reality by the language we use. It is important to remember that so much of what we experience and perform each day is socially constructed and it is then maintained in great part by our choice of words with regard to that particular topic, habit, custom.
The same applies to mental health and our attitude towards mental illness. We use language that is harmful without realizing it, we are nonchalant and mindless in how we talk about mental health and illness. Here are some tips to change your outlook by changing your words. This will also make you a safer space for people who are struggling with mental illness and help you combat stigma. 1) Mind the way you use diagnoses in common conversation. Using diagnoses as what they are and what they mean instead of a superlative or to make a point can help reduce stigma and avoid alienating people who truly deal with these disorders. Example:
He's so OCD vs. He is so organized
The weather is so bipolar today vs. The weather is so indecisive
I’m so depressed, my favourite show got cancelled vs. I’m so disappointed that I can’t watch anymore
Clinical diagnoses are not the same as every day occurrences. They have been diagnosed by a professional and involve specific and painful symptoms. These generalizations and exaggerations diminish the validity of real clinical diagnoses. This in turn invalidates the experiences of those who live with these disorders and illnesses 2) Use person first language. This means understanding that a person is a person first, and then has an illness. They are not their illness; it is not their identity. Imagine how strange and inhumane it would feel to refer to someone as “she is cancer”. Then why does “she is bipolar” make sense? Why do psychiatric diagnoses become adjectives? Example:
She is bipolar vs. She has bipolar disorder
He’s a psycho vs. He experiences psychosis They’re so OCD vs. They have OCD
This type of language brings back someone’s dignity and identity as a person. It ensures that we express that someone’s illness is not the whole of who they are and it is possible for them to be successful, happy and fulfilled while living with an illness.
As someone who lives with bipolar disorder, it can be difficult to hear people trivialize my daily struggle and use it as a punchline. I try to educate people on their language use and the impacts it can have but I sometimes don’t feel I have the emotional energy. Despite how draining it can be, it is important to confront people when they are perpetuating stigma.
Our reality and how we experience it is very much impacted by how we share and express ourselves. Some small changes to our vocabulary can make a world of different in eradicating the stigma surrounding mental illness.