Words matter. Any intelligent life form with advanced spoken-language abilities would agree that words – and the language we use – have immense power to change and shape who we are and our world itself. So when these insensitive terms slip out, they can be very harmful and hinder someone struggling with mental health. A sad confirmation: a 2007 study found that there are more negative words to describe someone with a mental illness than positive or neutral ones.
But we can all do our part to help create a more inclusive environment just by being more mindful of the terms we use on the daily.
Stop saying: “crazy”, “mental” and “losing my mind”
We've all done it, right? It’s not intended to be a malicious drag on those dealing with mental health issues (but remember: 1 in 5 Canadians personally experience a mental health problem or illness on any given year, according to CAMH) or mood disorders — but to someone suffering from a real mental illness, it feels like a punch to the gut.
Try this instead: "I'm so frustrated."
Stop saying: “depressed”
Here’s another extremely-common one. People often use this interchangeably with “sad” or even “just a little down” — but anyone who has suffered from depression before can attest, true depression often feels nothing like sadness. Unfortunately, throwing this phrase around casually just serves as a reminder that there are many people out there that still have no concept of what it means to be depressed.
Try this instead: "I'm very sad."
Stop saying: “psycho”
This is a tough one to hear, and honestly, we can’t say it any better than the Canadian Mental Health Association:
“Misperceptions about the relationship between mental health, mental illnesses and violence contribute significantly to these experiences. Studies have shown that people living with mental health conditions are no more likely to engage in violent behaviour than the general population. However, public perceptions, often influenced by the media, are contributing to attitudes that have a significant impact on the lives of people with mental illnesses.”
Try this instead: "She's being melodramatic."
Stop saying: “bipolar”
Listen, if you have the ability to clinically diagnose bipolar disorder, hats off to you, because you probably worked really hard for that designation. But you probably shouldn’t be diagnosing someone in casual conversation.
If you don’t have the ability to clinically diagnose someone with a disorder, don’t say someone is “being bipolar.”
Try this instead: "You're acting really moody."
Stop saying: “OCD”
As someone who suffers from actual obsessive compulsive disorder, this is a really frustrating and incredibly-common one to hear. While stereotypes suggest OCD with cleaning, folks living with OCD struggle with uncontrollable, reoccurring thoughts (obsessions) and behaviours (compulsions) that they often feel the need to repeat over and over. It can be very disrupted to the daily.
Try this instead: "You are so domestic and neat."
Stop saying: “I’m going to kill myself”
Try this instead: "I'm really upset."
Stop saying: “insane”
This one is a tough habit to break as pop culture has helped normalize it — making it feel OK when it's not. Insanity is a real thing and if someone doesn't have the thing, using it in a derogatory way only adds to the negative stigma.
Try this instead: "You're pushing me to my limits."
Stop saying: “anxiety” and “panic attack”
...unless you are actually having a panic attack. The fact that bae hasn’t texted you back is not actually “giving [you] anxiety,” or “a panic attack,” I promise. You can say the sentence, so chances are, you can breathe normally, or at least enough to get inane comments out. Don’t be that person.
Try this instead: "I'm super stressed right now."
Stop saying: “schizo”
Try this instead: "Why are you being so inconsistent?"
Stop saying: “manic”
The '80s hit song only encouraged folks to use this term — when, instead, people should probably just say "super busy" to express themselves.
Language matters and being mindful of the words we use can affect others. A little empathy can go a long way.
You are not alone
You can find a directory of mental health resources in Canada online here.
If you’re in crisis, you can call 1-833-456-4566 toll free, or text 45645, to reach Crisis Service Canada. The Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention also has a directory of support services online. If you are in need of mental health support, Wellness Together Canada is another good place to start. Or, for immediate crisis support, text WELLNESS to 741741.