The way we use language

Whilst on placement at Mind my primary project is the 'Wellbeing Workshops', and I also spend time building relationships with service users, seeing other groups and now I'm settled I'll be spending time visiting other mental health services in the area. As part of the process of reflecting on my work at Mind I have regular meetings with a support person to help me reflect theologically on my experiences. In this week’s blog I would like to recount one aspect of a recent conversation I had with him, where we discussed the language used when talking about mental health issues. For context, a recent study showed that 63% of references to mental health in TV soaps and dramas were “pejorative, flippant, or unsympathetic” in a 3 month observation covering 74 programmes[1].

Whether this is due to an attempt to entertain or reflect a situation is debatable, but the problem still remains, how we use language is very often unhelpful at best.

The facts remain: 60% of people with mental health challenges count the stigma and discrimination as having a worse affect than their illness[2], and 75% of young people said they'd be reluctant to tell friends or family about a mental health problem because they feared how they'd react.

But why are words and phrases like ‘crackpot’, ‘a sad little psycho’, ‘basket case’ and ‘he was Looney tunes’ still commonly used? Part of it may well be reclaiming words, some of it will be an unawareness to this being an issue, and, as much as I'd not like to admit it, some of it will be people not caring or being aware but not thinking it's an issue.

When we use derogatory language it becomes harder for people to talk about their experiences, which in turn makes it more of an unknown, so easier to talk about in a flippant manner. However, it's not a small minority, 25% of the adult population[3], 20% of university students consider themselves to have a mental health problem[4] and 10% of young people aged between 5 and 16 have a diagnosable mental health illness[5].

So, in the words of JK Rowling, “fear of a name only increases fear of the thing itself”. Let us be positive in our naming.