Do you ever challenge people for using language that propagates mental health stigma? Or do you often use it yourself without thinking about it, because no-one has ever challenged you?
I’m talking about words like “crazy, nuts, pyscho, nutjob, bonkers, schizo” etc etc. I have to hold my hand up and say I have been guilty of using such terms in the past and probably still do use some of the words on occasion when I don’t catch myself, because some of these words are so common and we don’t really relate them to any effect on mental health stigma, but as this study suggest such language creates negative attitudes towards mental illness and then may reduce liklihood of people seeking help if they need it.
So this week for Anti-Bullying week I am asking you to think about the language you use and if you are a teacher in a classroom, do think about challenging your students to think about the language they use and the effects it can have. Whether the words are used perjoratively or not, I think it is worth being mindful of the potential effects of the words on bystanders. That isn’t to say I want to see any of these words banned (I secretly rather like the adjective “bonkers” when used affectionately!) but to encourage a critical and reflective approach to the power of language.
Just to highlight how tricky this can be some might argue this post is a classic example of:
“Political correctness gorn mad!”
But unpicking that statement is in itself a challenge of language. What do we mean by “gone mad”? Is that statement stigmatising to people with mental health issues? Is ‘political correctness’ such a bad thing?.
I don’t have the answers but what I am asking you to do is to be mindful of the langauge you use even if you think it doesn’t matter it probably does, and if you are a PSHE teacher to think seriously about increasing your lessons on mental health education to support young people to support themselves and each other.
P.S As an aside for those of you that don’t know- I have written a book for children explaining aspects of serious mental illness (psychosis). It’s called Pretend Friends and it’s out in February. So expect many more posts on mental health in coming months. But don’t worry I am not moving away from my core work of relationships and sex education, after all healthy relationships helps healthy minds (and vice versa)!