Language is an integral part in communication on a day-to-day basis. We communicate with our body language, the words we choose, the tone in which we express those words, and how we react to the words of another when carrying out a discussion. In regards to mental health, this is especially important to consider as we begin to shift away from stereotypes, stigma and hurtful language.
Here are some common mental health terms misused in day-to-day interactions and what you can use instead, to be more inclusive:
“Commit/committed suicide” – As a society, we are steering away from using “commit suicide”. The word “committed” insinuates a criminal act was carried out in the process. Instead, you can use the terms “died by suicide” or “suicided” to communicate that someone has passed away by suicide.
“Addict” – The term “addict” is offensive and stigmatizing to many. What is appropriate? The term “suffers from addiction” or “lives with a substance-related problem” is the best way to communicate it.
“I’m so OCD” – It’s one thing to be organized, on-time and prepared. However, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) can be a very debilitating illness for those who are living with it. OCD is an anxiety disorder in which the individual experiences recurrent thoughts that they cannot get rid of. The compulsions follow the thoughts and consist of repetitive behaviours or mental rituals that are believed to reduce anxiety about an obsession. OCD can be extremely debilitating and means a lot more than being particular.
“Schizophrenic”– Identifying someone as “a schizophrenic” attaches a label to that person. To label someone as “schizophrenic” implies that their illness is their only identity. Schizophrenia is only a part of someone’s life, it does not define it. Everyone, including those living with schizophrenia are identifiable as a person first. They are not “schizophrenia”, they live with the illness.
What means one thing to one person, can be perceived differently by another, including someone living with a mental illness. Although we may mean no harm in the words we speak, the perception of our language can be interpreted differently than our intention. Self-awareness is key in adapting our language to be sensitive to all and it can make the world of difference in caring interactions.