“Handle them carefully, words have more power than atom bombs”
-Pearl Strachman Hurd
Crazy, mental, psycho, nuts, looney, whacked, these common slang terms for mental health disorders perpetuate negative stereotypes and labels. They may seem insignificant but they really aren’t. To put this into context, it used to be acceptable to use words such as “midget or dwarf” to describe a person of short stature. Now, we know those terms reinforces negative stereotypes, cause emotional pain and can result in bullying, bringing out some of the worst in our human nature. When we know better we can do better, right?
What can you do to stop reinforcing labels and negative stereotypes for your friends, family and neighbors who may be suffering in silence? Check yourself, do you use words casually in conversation that may be hurtful? Or do you call someone living with a disability courageous? Why not think of them as someone who is successful, or maybe someone who has overcome a disability? What about “confined to a wheelchair”? Wheelchairs actually do not confine but give mobility to one who is a wheelchair user. Just as it is important to shift how we think about people who use wheelchairs, it’s time to change our mindset about people living with a mental health disorder.
Let’s get to a place where people who have a mental health disorder don’t have to “admit” they have a problem but can say they have a mental health disorder. There is so much self-inflicted stigma when someone is suffering, they need to be surrounded by compassion and understanding to get their feet under them. Don’t be someone who takes them down with your words mindlessly or in passing, I wonder how many times I have make a joke at the expense of someone else without knowing it.
Sigh……. You never know what someone is going through. What can we do? Choose words wisely, learn more about the impact words have. Notice what words you put after “I am”....... Choose carefully what you tell yourself; your words have major an impact on your psyche for better or worse.
In their book Words can Change Your Brain Andrew Newberg, M.D., and Mark Robert Waldman discovered a powerful strategy called Compassionate Communication. They named 4 things we can do to improve our conversational skills. - paraphrased below.
1. Recognize our personal communication style.
2. Interrupt old habituated patterns of negative words and phrases.
3. Experiment with new words and phrases long enough to develop new neural circuits and behavior.
4. Consciously apply these strategies in conversation.
When you hear someone use words that reinforce negative stereotypes, if appropriate politely point out what you have learned and suggest they be more aware of their word choices. There may be times when it is too difficult to challenge someone else’s words, but you can always watch your own!
Here are a few labels we should banish from our vocabulary in my humble opinion: