Your perspective on mental health and the ways you’ve learned how to talk about it are influenced by a number of things. The house you grew up in, how/if your caregivers discussed mental health experiences (or not), and to some degree your present workplace, support system and current family environments. Throughout the centuries people have referred to mental health concerns in a number of ways.
Words like “crazy,” “unstable,” “mentally ill,” “schizophrenic,” and others have been used to describe how people are experiencing different things. These words are often misattributed to a person or situation and tend to carry a lot of stigma.
Perhaps you’ve heard these words thrown around in attempts to describe behavior that seems unusual or uncommon. Maybe you’ve even called yourself “crazy,” “dysfunctional,” or “bipolar” while attempting to describe your mental or emotional experiences.
Changing the way we talk about something we experience has the power to change how we experience it.
Read that again: Changing the way we talk about something we experience has the power to change how we experience it.
I will give you a few examples.
When reading through the following phrases I’d like you to pause after each one and just notice the first thought or memory that comes to mind:
“They are acting crazy!”
“That person is bipolar”
What are some thoughts that came to mind after reading those phrases? My guess is likely the thoughts that came to mind are negative, maybe you’re left with an uncertain feeling, or perhaps you aren’t sure what to think or how you feel.
Let’s try another exercise with the following phrases – try the same thing, read each one and pause to think about the thoughts or memories that come to mind.
“They seem like they could use some support.”
“That person has a lot of different emotions they experience.”
“Something doesn’t sit right with me about what just happened.”
Did you notice any different responses or thoughts this time?
Something that stands out to me is that there seems to be less judgement that is attached to each of the phrases listed in the second set.
I want to point out two things. (1) when we acknowledge a behavior or emotion that someone experiences, it is important to be as specific as possible in naming what they are going through. This can prevent someone from feeling judged or shamed as a result. (2) It’s also important to use language that isn’t as stigmatized (described or regarded as disgraceful or not socially acceptable). For example, it sounds different to say “I am investing in my mental wellness” as opposed to “I am being seen for my mental illness.”
See the difference there?
In a similar vein, I talk to my clients a lot about framing their mental health experiences as simply that: something they are experiencing.
Many times I hear clients talk about “my depression” or “my anxiety,” and although seemingly harmless, these phrases indicate they belong to you, or are a part of you. Instead try saying something like: “during my experience of anxiety I noticed my heart rate increased and my palms were sweaty.” This changes how a person might experience anxiety altogether, because it is not a part of who they are, nor does it make up part of their identity, anxiety may simply be something they experience. Make sense?
This simple change in wording and perspectives speaks to the power that language carries.
I hope this topic and these examples have been helpful for you. If you know a young adult who could benefit from trauma therapy or know someone who would benefit from online therapy in Colorado, don’t hesitate to reach out today. Each counselor at Lime Tree Counseling offers a free 15 minute phone consultation to see if counseling might be a good fit for you.