Impact of Language on Mental Health Stigma

Language is powerful.

How Language Impacts The Stigma Against Mental Health (And What We Must Do To Change It)

I’m surprised by how well this article was written, because I had just read one, right before reading this, on the same site (in fact this one was in the recommended section at the end of the other one) that was absolutely terrible.

This one caught my attention though because it’s something I’ve been struggling with lately. Not so much saying the things mentioned — I think I’ve done pretty good at eliminating them from my vocabulary over the passed couple years — but hearing others say them and having an anxiety attack because I want so badly to correct them, but my social anxiety gets the best of me, every time. It’s so frustrating.

I’ve had people say things to me, in the most casual way, about killing themselves, or wanting to die, because something isn’t going their way. While I understand the frustration behind the comment, it hurts every time I hear it because I have been suicidal. In fact, one particular time these comments were made during a time when I actually was suicidal. It hurt so bad that someone who had never struggled a day in their life with mental illness would say that they wanted to kill themselves over a client who was being super annoying. I was annoyed by the client too, but it had absolutely nothing to do with why I was suicidal at the time, and the person who said it, was most definitely not suicidal. That was not the only time that happened with the same person, but my anxiety and depression diagnosis was still very fresh and I hadn’t come out about it yet.

I’m the past few months alone, I’ve heard the people say, “I have, like, OCD,” referring to a pile of boxes in our office and wanting to organize them. Twice. Because of the way it was said both times, I’m not 100% convinced that this person was just saying it. It is possible they do legitimately have OCD, but I’m not entirely sure. It is probably unlikely though, because the boxes are still there any the only time clearing them up is mentioned by that same person is when someone is asking about the boxes.

Both times, it was not said directly to me, I just happened to be right there, so it didn’t feel appropriate to say anything, but the first time, it was bring said to someone who has previously used the phrase, “you’re OCD,” referring to someone’s pickiness about something specific.

If my social anxiety wasn’t so bad I probably would say something, but I am so terrified of coming off as bitchy that I end up bringing myself almost to tears every time this happens. The logical part of my brain keeps telling me that I’ve only ever been called a bitch once, by someone with their own attitude problems (she called the cops on one of my friends, twice, for the dumbest reasons, the cop actually thought she was a teenager, and was shocked when my friend told him she was 27) and didn’t even have the guts to say it to my face. In fact, I was in a different province at the time, over 3000km away. But no matter how many times I remind myself of that fact, I still think on going to be called a bitch.

Another one that happened recently, was a co-worker said to me, “I’m getting PTSD,” referring to some poorly written code we were trying to debug. I was already stressed out to begin with, and when I saw that (it was in a chat message) I started to panic. I went back and forth in my head about what I could say and whether or not to bother. As soon as I stated to tear up, I knew I had to stop. I minimized the window and tried to calm myself down and distract myself with something else, which was hard because I didn’t have anything unrelated to work on at the time.

So, again, I didn’t say anything. It got me thinking though, maybe I need to be the one to start talking about this stuff in the office. I can’t do it by bringing it up to everyone, and I certainly don’t want to single anyone out (because I know it would make me uncomfortable) for saying these things, but how will anyone learn how harmful these seemingly innocent phrase are of no one tells them.

Because I’m also struggling a lot with my depression right now, it makes it even harder to bring this stuff up, so I’m not sure what I’m going to do yet. For now, I’m sticking to spreading awareness online.


October 2-8, 2016 is Mental Illness Awareness WeekSpreading Awareness, Reducing Stigma.

Leave a Reply