Words Matter: Say This (and Not This) About Mental Health

Words matter. Language we use in our verbal and written communications can be supportive or hurtful to those impacted by mental health conditions. A few simple changes to the way we communicate can support those living with mental health conditions and help end stigma. A few shifts: we can be more kind and accepting with the things we say, we can stop defining people by their mental health conditions, and we can stop minimizing the experiences of those affected. Here are some examples of what to say — and not to say — about mental health.

Let’s stop defining people by mental health conditions.

Say This: She lives with bipolar disorder; he lives with schizophrenia; my friend lives with OCD.
Not This: She’s bipolar; he’s a schizophrenic; my OCD friend.

Let’s be more kind and accepting and stop spreading toxic positivity.

Say This: Your feelings are valid. I’m here to listen.
Not This: Good vibes only! Why don’t you focus on the positive?

Say This: What you’re going through is difficult. I’m here for you.
Not This: It could be worse. You could try harder to get over it.

Say This: I can see you’re having a hard time. I’m here for you.
Not This: Just relax.

Let’s stop minimizing mental health conditions.

Say This: The weather has been unpredictable.
Not This: The weather is so bipolar.

Say This: I spent all day cleaning my house.
Not This: I was so OCD this weekend, I spent all day cleaning my house.

Say This: I’m having a hard time paying attention.
Not This: I’m so ADD right now.

Say This: That’s so surprising/unpredictable.
Not This: That’s so crazy/insane/mental.

Say This: That was embarrassing.
Not This: It was so embarrassing, I wanted to kill myself!

Let’s reframe the way we speak about suicide.

Say This: He died by suicide or he ended his life; it was an attempted suicide.
Not This: He committed suicide; it was an unsuccessful suicide.

More on how to talk about mental health.