I just read a fabulous TED blog. It was written by Thu-Huong Ha, who does a lot of writing for TED. She asked several people their thoughts on how to speak about mental health in a ‘healthier’ manner. Here are a few ideas, but you should check out the full blog post!
End the stigma – this is one that I fight all the time as a therapist. People seem so ashamed and it’s because it’s always looked down upon to have an ‘issue’. I know so many people who think that seeking help for anxiety or depression makes them or shows them to be weak. It’s just not so!
Avoid correlations between criminality and mental illness – we’re seeing a lot of this with the gun issues in the US. But what isn’t pointed out is that most gun deaths AREN’T caused by someone who is mentally ill. People who commit crimes may just be bad people. But if they do have some mental health issue, then shouldn’t we try to help them out through therapy?
But do correlate more between mental illness and suicide – you don’t kill yourself just because you are weak or just because something has gone wrong in your life. You attempt to take your life because of mental health issues, which as very treatable.
Avoid words like “crazy” or “psycho” – I have to admit that this is one I need to work on too. It adds to the stigma or makes mental illness seem ‘funny’ or not as serious as it should.
If you feel comfortable talking about your own experience with mental health, by all means, do so – this was something that was powerful for the teens I worked with. When we would bring in people who had suffered themselves but where willing to share in their journey, it helped those who were also suffering and had lost hope.
Don’t define a person by his/her mental illnesses – you are not the illness. You are not anxiety or depression, even if you are suffering from it at this moment. You may have bipolar disorder, but you are not a bipolar person. You are a person in your own right!
Sometimes the problem isn’t that we’re using the wrong words, but that we’re not talking at all – sometimes we get so worried about how people are going to feel about talking about depression or anxiety that we just shut up. That’s wrong. Talking about mental illness does not create it, but can help make it more normalised and thus people may feel better about getting help
Recognize the amazing contributions of people with mental health differences – I can’t even begin to list the number of amazing people who have suffered a mental illness and yet contributed so much to society.
Humor helps – I think Ruby Wax was the first person I knew of who really focused on depression in her comedy routine. And I think it helped a lot by normalising it and bringing it out into the open.
I do hope you read the entire blog post on TED, as there are great thoughts from great people on there!