At the ripe old age of 18, I learned my first hard lesson about the power of language. I said, “that’s so gay” during a conversation to an individual who identified as gay. Boy howdy, I was in trouble! In that moment, I was educated on the power of language, and to this day have I have never forgotten.
Language is VERY powerful, and can bring along with it positive and negative emotions. Language has the power to build up or destroy stereotypes and stigmas. Your choice of words, whether you are aware of it or not, may be hurting someone emotionally. In that moment I talked about above, I offended a friend and didn’t even realize it.
It is no secret that I am very passionate about mental health, so I decided to take the lesson I learned regarding language and apply it to mental illness. A few simple changes in words can make a huge positive impact.
- Eliminate “suffers with” and replace it with “lives with,” “affected by” or “living with” Ex. “I live with anxiety” instead of “I suffer with anxiety.”
- Say, “I have (insert MH illness disorder)” instead of “I am (insert MH disorder)” Ex. “I have schizophrenia” instead of “I am schizophrenic.”
- Replace “is” with “has” Ex. “She has bipolar” instead of “she is bipolar”
A diagnosis is not a label! Just as cancer is not someone’s identity, mental illness is not an identity. It is a disease that can be managed and lived with. An individual can have a mental illness and still have goals, marriage, and family. I challenge you to choose a language that doesn’t limit someone to “just” being an illness.
If you have ever lived with a mental illness, I would love to hear from you in the comments.