Beware the words you use when talking about mental health issues

Southern NSW Local Health District is calling on its community to help end the stigma associated with acute mental illnesses by choosing their words with greater care.

People living with acute mental health issues, such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, are among some of the most disadvantaged people in our community; many of whom frequently encounter stigma and discrimination.

Ryan D’Lima, Mental Health Lived Experience Coordinator with Southern NSW Local Health District says people struggling with their mental health already have enough challenges and careless or thoughtless language just makes their journey harder.

“A common feature of having a mental illness is negative self-talk, their internal narrative focuses on being not worthy with no future. When people, their friends, family, work mates make adverse comments about mental illness, for someone with a mental health condition those social stereotypes reinforce their negative self-beliefs and hold them back from finding their own positive voice on the road to recovery,” Mr D’Lima said.

“Mental Health services have moved a long way from the image Hollywood presents. These days we use a trauma informed, person centred approach, which is all about recovery.

“Stigma makes recovery from mental illness harder. Mental wellbeing has a lot to do with staying active and engaged, living a contributing life, and feeling accepted by others as part of the community. For a person with a mental illness, stigma can erode their self-confidence and make them shy away from engaging with others, fearing misunderstanding and ridicule.”

Mr D’Lima suggests that one way to help reduce stigma is to avoid defining a person by their diagnosis.

“Emphasise the person first. For example, say ‘David has been diagnosed with a mental health issue’ instead of ‘David is mentally ill’ or ‘David is schizophrenic.’”

For a more in-depth guide to discussing language around mental health visit Conversations Matter:

If you, or someone you know, is thinking about suicide or experiencing a personal crisis, please seek help immediately by calling 000. You can also seek support from one of these services:

Lifeline 13 11 14 | Suicide Call Back Service 1300 659 467 | NSW Mental Health Line 1800 011 511 | Beyondblue 1300 224 636 | Kids Helpline 1800 55 1800