Mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of, but stigma and bias shame us all.” – Bill Clinton
Words can have a lot of power which is easy to forget. Sometimes we say things we don’t mean, but once the words are said we can’t take them back. It’s important to do our best to think about what we’re going to say before we say it.
When we have discussions about mental health in particular, we need to choose our words wisely. Remember that mental illnesses aren’t adjectives, and that when they’re used as such it stigmatizes the people who have them. It can make people feel a greater sense of shame or that their mental illness is invalid. For example, bipolar disorder is a complicated mental illness, and the word bipolar is often used as an adjective to describe someone who goes from a good mood to a bad mood. The adjective “crazy” is sometimes used to describe someone with a mental illness which is offensive. Just because someone is different from you in a way you don’t understand doesn’t mean they’re crazy. Sometimes people throw around the idea of killing themselves, like “ugh I’d rather kill myself than go to work today,” which minimizes the severity of suicide.
My hope is that anyone who’s reading this will take a pledge to stop using language that is offensive and stigmatizing to people with mental illnesses. Using certain phrases can become such a habit that we aren’t even aware that we ‘re saying them or of the power that they hold. Try to become more aware of the words that come out of not only your mouth, but of the words that come out of others. If you hear someone calling someone with a mental illness a “maniac,” politely call them out on it and use that opportunity to educate them on the power their words have.
The derogatory language people use when discussing mental health is one of the main reasons I remained silent about my mental illness for so long, and I know I’m not alone in that. There are so many people suffering in silence and afraid to reach out for the help they need because of the stigma society creates. It doesn’t have to be this way, nor should it.
You can make a difference just by using your voice and by being aware of the words that you, and others, use.