Talking About Mental Health

March 26, 20200 CommentLeadership , Mental health

The expression “PC” or “politically correct,” has entered the common vernacular around the globe, but can mean many different things. In some areas, it can mean the avoidance of potentially insulting or offensive slang terms, and in others, it can mean avoiding subjects entirely. For example, “we don’t talk about politics here” or “we don’t want to bring up mental health issues in front of him,” and so on. Unfortunately, there are some sensitive subjects that must be discussed, and mental health is one of them.

So, how do you talk about mental health? We offer several tips below:

  • Don’t equate the person with the mental health concern

As an example, you might know that someone is living with schizophrenia. Rather than saying “Sue is schizophrenic,” it is better to say that “Sue has schizophrenia.” In the latter, Sue is not equal to the condition but simply has the condition. Always talk about the person and not their diagnosis.

  • Always stick with mental illness over any other word choice

In addition to using person-first language, i.e. Sue has schizophrenia, always use the expression mental illness. Some people find it less than ideal to use expressions like “mentally ill,” or “mentally disabled.” It should always be a mental illness.

  • Avoid the insensitive, insulting, or cliched expressions

We can go right past the obvious, such as “crazy” or “mad” and look at terms like “addict” or “junkie”, or “demented” and “damaged”. Take a moment to just evaluate how you might feel if you or someone you loved were described with hurtful and inaccurate words. Rather than using any flawed expressions, just stick to mental illness when trying to describe someone.

  • Avoid victim language

We might say someone is suffering from or is afflicted with a condition. This makes them a victim rather than a person with a mental illness. So, try to use language like “he or she has a history of…” or “he or she is living with…”

  • Don’t apply terms to yourself or others if not diagnosed with a condition

For example, if you say “Oh, that’s my ADD at work today!” it can be hurtful to someone with Attention Deficit Disorder. Avoid using such “explanations” for your personal quirks or idiosyncrasies. 

And if you are worried about discussing your mental health, you can use the following tips and suggestions.

When Talking about YOUR Mental Health

If you have been diagnosed with a mental illness, you may already know how difficult it can be to discuss it with many different people. While you must let family and friends know, you may also have to alert an employer. If so, you will want to explain the illness in the clearest terms possible, but also only share those facts that you are comfortable sharing. Think a bit about where you discuss this issue and be sure you have given yourself some time to prepare for the conversation to feel a little uncomfortable.

Have a plan in place, just in case it becomes overwhelming or your employer doesn’t understand. Perhaps have some literature about your mental illness or talk to friends and family about some tips they would offer.

It is not always easy to discuss mental illness (when it is our mental illness or that of a friend or colleague). It feels worrying and many are concerned they’ll say the wrong thing. The good news is that you can use the tips here to offer support (or seek it). 

Offer up support through small gestures, such as listening, showing you care, or keeping in touch and you will make a world of difference for someone with mental illness. If you are the person diagnosed with mental illness, being open and honest is often going to put everyone at ease. Start talking about mental illness today and enjoy a better tomorrow!


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