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5 Terms that Stigmatizes Mental Health (and What to Say Instead)

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Getty Images / Daruma46

Pop culture and media often portray mental health disorders in an outdated and stigmatized way. In this piece, Bryce Evans examines hurtful or misrepresentative phrases, and offers an alternative.

Can you remember the last time you saw a man with a psychiatric disorder play the lead role in a romantic comedy? It’s rare, isn’t it?

Instead, we often see mental health conditions linked to murder and violence on screen. Movies and TV regularly use outdated stereotypes of mental health conditions for laughs or scares. These representations teach us to fear or ridicule people with mental health issues.

The stories we tell are powerful, and so is the language we use.

Casually calling someone “crazy” can reinforce negative perceptions of mental health conditions. It can have consequences. Some research indicates that stigma might even keep some people who are experiencing mental health issues from getting treatment.

All of us can be more mindful of how we speak in our daily lives to change perceptions and eliminate shame. Here are five terms that stigmatize mental health, and suggestions on what to say instead:

“Commit suicide”

A person “commits” murder. The word “commit” implies an immoral act. It can shame people experiencing mental health issues so that they might be less likely to get help. Use “died by suicide” or “took their own life” instead.

“I just want to kill myself”

This is a flippant way to express frustration. It trivializes the severity of depression and suicidal thoughts. It’s more helpful to describe the problem and the emotions you’re feeling. For example, “it’s exhausting to wait in line at the post office for three hours.”

“Psycho,” “insane,” or “disturbed”

Words like these lump all mental health conditions into one bucket to describe someone whose actions are perceived as unreasonable or frightening. All of these expressions are inaccurate. We communicate better when we avoid exaggerated language. Our landlord isn’t insane for doubling our rent — he’s greedy.

“Schizophrenic” or “depressive”

It can sometimes feel like a mental health condition takes over your life or identity. Labeling a person as a “schizo” or “depressive” reinforces that perception. It’s better to say a person “has schizophrenia” or “is being treated for depression.”

“I’m so depressed”

Many people offhandedly use this phrase to express frustration, sadness, or dissatisfaction with their life or circumstances. Doing this might detract from the symptoms and severity of depression. Depression is a medical condition. In fact, it’s one of the most common mental disorders in the United States, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.

The takeaway

Stigmatizing language is deeply embedded in our culture, which can make it difficult to recognize.

It’s time to change the conversation. Using more sensitive language in our day to day lives creates a more supportive environment for people to seek professional help without shame.

The information presented is solely for educational purposes, not as specific advice for managing asthma. Please consult a professional who can apply best practices and appropriate resources to your situation.

The individual(s) who have written and created the content in and whose images appear in this article have been paid by Teva Pharmaceuticals for their contributions. This content represents the opinions of the contributor and does not necessarily reflect those of Teva Pharmaceuticals. Similarly, Teva Pharmaceuticals does not review, control, influence or endorse any content related to the contributor's websites or social media networks. This content is intended for informational and educational purposes and should not be considered medical advice or recommendations. Consult a qualified medical professional for diagnosis and before beginning or changing any treatment regimen.

NPS-ALL-NP-00977 JUNE 2023

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