It is interesting to me that you always hear people say “We need to talk more about mental health,” and some people will genuinely think that we do. We hear words being thrown around every day, so it is not like we aren’t talking about it; however, it is how we talk about it that I believe needs to change.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, nearly one in five U.S. adults live with a mental illness, and only less than half of them seek treatment. That means chances are you talk to numerous people living with any mental illness (AMI) every day. So obviously, this is a huge number of Americans, which means it should be talked about way more than it currently is. The problem is we have normalized some words and phrases associated with AMI into a way that almost diminishes the actual struggle that people with AMI go through.
I am not going to stand here on my soapbox and preach as if I am without flaw. There are things I say that I do not realize can have effects on people mentally. I really try my absolute best to never offend, and lately, I am on a mission to cut out any words that add to the negative mental health stigmas. I have read multiple articles online relating to a myriad of topics on things we should cut out of our day-to-day vocabulary, but what those articles fail to do is provide you with substitutions to what you are really trying to say.
Ultimately, the reason I am writing this is because you do not know what someone may be going through. Maybe someone does suffer with what you are saying out of context, or maybe they don’t. We don’t want to diminish any of these issues or make people think they can’t talk about AMIs because people will make jokes or see them a certain way. Here is a list of words and phrases that we should stop saying out of context and ways we can replace them:
Crazy: Now, let me start by saying that not all uses of this word are bad. This is one I definitely have been struggling to take out of my vocab. However, describing someone as crazy can be misconstrued. The dictionary has four definitions of crazy, but only two of them can be used to described people. They define crazy as “mentally deranged, especially as manifested in a wild or aggressive way” or “a mentally deranged person.” A lot of times people call someone crazy because they do not agree with them. So instead of questioning their mental state because they are different than you, why don’t you just describe them as different from you?
Don’t Say: “How could you say that? You’re crazy!”
Do Say: “How could you say that? That’s not a good idea!”
Kill Myself: This one particularly stings for many people. Suicide is far too common. Many people succumb to their mental illnesses and demons because they feel it is their only way out. You have no idea of the battles someone has had with themselves. This should be no laughing matter. As a college student, I hear almost daily someone say, “Ugh. This class makes me want to kill myself.” Obviously, not everyone that says that wants to hurt themselves, but by making it so common to say, how can we detect when someone actually might? There are no cookie cutter signs of a depressed or suicidal person. As I mentioned before, this can also trigger people that may have attempted or have had suicidal ideations in the past.
Don’t say: “I’m going to kill myself”
Do say: “I hate this, and it is making me stressed”
OCD: Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is a mental illness that many people struggle with every day. Often times TV portrays OCD as a cleaning fetish, a need for perfection, or little quirks. Yes, that can be part of it, but for a vast amount of people with OCD, it isn’t. A very simple way to explain OCD is obsessing over things so much so that you have compulsions that you think can make the overwhelming thoughts go away. OCD causes intrusive thoughts that can cause you to act on them to try and stop them. It is a very scary and exhausting disease for those that suffer from this. A lot of times, when someone uses this in their language they just mean they might be detail-oriented or like things a certain way.
Don’t say: “I need to fix that presentation cause I’m so OCD”
Do say: “I’m such a perfectionist, I need to fix that presentation”
Bipolar: Here is another mental illness that has made its way into our everyday language for reasons other than discussing, educating, or ending the stigma on the actual disease. Bipolar disorder is a chronic disease full of extreme depressions with manic highs. This can be incredibly difficult for people if they do not properly seek treatment. Tons of us will say someone is bipolar when they change their mind a lot. You have no idea what someone is going through, and that person might just be indecisive.
Don’t say: “She is so bipolar.”
Do say: “She’s always changing her mind.”
Panic Attack: Again, another serious issue that people with AMI can experience. Panic attacks can cause heart palpitations, blurred vision, trouble breathing, nausea, and other symptoms. They are debilitating at the moment, but you will hear people say this to express stress.
Don’t say: “Last night’s episode of The Bachelor gave me a panic attack!”
Do say: “Last night’s episode of The Bachelor stressed me out so much!”
Again, my goal here is just to remind you to be mindful of what you say because you do not know what people are going through. I still find myself saying these things because they have been normalized in society, but it is never too late to reverse that.