The Language We Use

How can the language we use affect others mental health?

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Importance of the Language We Use

It is important to remember that language is an evolving process and so when we use certain words or phrases around children it is imperative to remember the impact that negative language can have.  

Some people may not even be aware that when they speak, the language they are using is seen as negative. As pupils are young and have a mental capacity of that of a sponge soaking in all this information is hard to process and understand the meanings behind them- they may interpret things in a certain way because of previous experiences etc. and therefore we must be careful when approaching certain subjects and learning to use positive language. 

The stigma towards mental health has permeated our language. This in turn has turned words into a barrier to help-seeking and a motivator for making discrimination acceptable. 

Language can be a provider of context for many people, which can further entrap them in a vicious cycle. It can make someone believe that they are suffering when they really shouldn’t be or worse that this “something” is somehow defining them as much lesser of a member of their community. 

Our Language is Emotionally Charged


Remember that almost 1 in 6 people experience high levels of distress or common mental health problems a week. Therefore, being respectful and thoughtful about the way our mental health is reflected and related language could do wonders for our brains “associative activation” and the emotions of people around us. 

Being more thoughtful means avoiding such things as: 

  • Describing someone who is organised as “OCD”- being clean, tidy and particular is not the same as living with clinical obsessive-compulsive disorder. 
  • Talking about being “Bipolar” when we experience everyday natural mood swings, is not the same as living with bipolar disorder. 
  • Saying “I’m depressed” or “that’s depressing if we feel a bit sad, is not the same as living with Depression. 
  • Using very problematic words like “psycho” to describe a person we dislike or “schizo2 to describe a person’s reaction or personality, stigmatises people living with Schizophrenia  
  • Describing someone who is thin or curvy as “anorexic” or “fat/obese” misunderstands that Anorexia and other conditions that are concerning weight are actually much more complex mental health conditions. 
  • Saying things like “Ugh, I’m going to kill myself” when frustrated, embarrassed or when something is going wrong is insensitive to someone who is suicidal or someone who has lost a loved one to suicide.  


All of these factor’s effect everyone including children.


Mental health can impact fundamental parts of our personal identity and those around us, like our relationships, work performance and educational outcomes. 

The way in which we have framed society, people living with long-term mental health problem can struggle to recover their personal identity (student, partner, co-worker etc.) Therefore, how we talk about the experiences we face with mental illness can play a positive and influential role in the “recovery” process.  

Identifying someone as simply a “patient”, “service user” or “schizophrenic” implies that this is all the person is? That the diagnosis defines them. Instead, we need to describe someone who is experiencing mental illness. As in turn, this can help allow for other parts of their identity to be known and exist to not just themselves but society as well.  

How far We have Come

It is true and noticeable that we have come a long way in recent years in terms of mental health and our attitudes to combating the stigma that surrounds ill-health but, we still have a long way to go.  

However, it still remains that a few thousands of people experience symptoms of mental illness but do not professional clinical help because of the still negative stigma attached to mental illness as they fear of being misunderstood.  

We are still exposed to unhealthy imagery and expressions in media- however, the response to this and fighting the stigma is on the rise especially in social media and online. Where people can have a space that is there own and feel free to express themselves.

For too long, most campaigning efforts in psychiatry and public health have focused on increasing the understanding of the biological model of mental illness, i.e. the physical, organic and biological aspects of illness. We now know that social circumstances play a huge role in the development of mental health problems. Research shows that while this increased understanding of the biology leads to greater acceptance of professional help, it hasn’t really changed the attitudes towards people with mental illness.

A greater understanding on the social circumstances that we grow and live in – and that expose us to risk, or gather protection to our mental health – is needed. We cannot change this understanding unless our language evolves.

Our Responsibility

We need more efforts across society for everyone to be the change they’d like to see. We don’t need to wait until we get on the other end of the spectrum to change how we talk about mental health. And when it comes to talking, with great power comes great responsibility, so high reach media should come on board this evolution.

With rich media comes ways in which educating and changing our language becomes our responsibility and a platform to vocalise this, to the world. Make waves with positive language and educate yourself and others on ways in which this can happen and stop the stigma of mental health.


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