Executive assistant, Lucy Walsh discusses how language matters with mental health. 

In recent years mental health is a topic which has been talked about more and more. This can only be a good thing. However it can be disappointing for those who live with mental health conditions to see how unjustifiably their conditions are described; with the words used having dismissive or obstructive connotations. 

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You only need to google ‘words to describe mental health’ and see the first results to understand why there needs to be a change in the way we speak about mental health. 

Craziness, derangement, insaneness, lunacy, madness- these are all negative synonyms used frequently to describe those living with mental health conditions. These words are unsympathetic and stereotypical. They do not in any way describe the varying symptoms and different degrees there are of mental health conditions. 

As well as individual words there are some phrases which could and should be adapted and used to provide a more genuine representation. For example, “suffers with”, this makes the condition seem like a burden to be carried (which it most definitely can be) but by using a more positive phrase such as “lives with” we can begin to see mental health conditions as equal to physical conditions such as diabetes or epilepsy. People are living with these conditions all the time, and yes they are likely suffering too but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a condition that you cannot function alongside of.

A second phrase, which is a difficult one to write, is “committed suicide”.  This phrase originates from when suicide was considered a crime and a sin. It was still a criminal offence up until 1961 in the UK.  You could be prosecuted if it was found that you had attempted to take your own life.  It is better to use “died by suicide” or “lost to suicide”; these take away the blame and align the act with health and not with crime.

Another important phrase we should be aware of is “I’m fine”. When we respond “I’m fine” it doesn’t always mean that we are. ‘Ask Twice’ is a campaign which Time to Change, alongside Mind still advocate for today by asking twice we may be able to spark a different response and by being conscious of the words we use we can hopefully start a positive conversation around mental health conditions and view them as just the same as physical health conditions.