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Words matter: a simple change to fight mental health stigma

I resolved to stop using words associated with mental health (“crazy,” “mental,” “insane”) in my everyday conversations in 2020.

I realized when I meant to say something was “bad,” I often used words associated with mental health issues. I wanted to do my small part to change my tone.

Chain of paper people holding hands on white background

It was, and is still, so hard to stop using stock phrases that denigrate mental health. I usually only realize what I’ve said after I’ve uttered phrases like “that’s so crazy!” or “it was insane.” Each time I catch myself, I wonder how this language became so ingrained and why I never questioned it, to begin with.

Nearly nine out of ten people with mental health problems say that stigma and discrimination have a negative effect on their lives.

Mental Health Foundation

Fighting mental health stigma

Our society places a stigma on mental health, which “can significantly affect feelings of shame and lead to poorer treatment outcomes.” I believe words matter. When I approach a negative situation by framing it with words to describe someone’s state of mind, I build negative associations to mental health. And that blocks any type of transparency or conversation around mental health, especially in the workplace where people are more guarded. As a people leader, I feel a responsibility to guide my team away from using unnecessary and hurtful language in our content.

In the past decade, progress has been made in normalizing mental health. More and more people understand that mental health is part of everyone’s life. If you’d like to be more mindful about the phrases you use in everyday conversation, try these alternatives. You may be surprised at how often you use stigmatizing language in your daily life.

So say what you mean:

 

Don’t use

Do use

To express disbelief

That’s crazy!

That’s unbelievable!

To express dislike for someone:

That person is insane 

I don’t like that person

To explain if something was unexpected or out of control

The party was nuts

The party was rowdy

To describe something that is hard to understand or unusual

This is mental

This is unexpected

To describe someone who is emotional

That person is losing it

That person is emotional

To describe someone or something horrifying

That person is a psycho

That person did a horrible thing

To ask someone to share their feelings or to do something

Go nuts

Share your thoughts / Go for it

To say you’re organized

I’m OCD

I’m very organized

 

Leadership

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