How to Talk About Mental Health

How to Talk About Mental Health | Dr. Ali Ghahary

When it comes to discussing mental health – whether it’s with your friends, with your family members, in the news, or even in a blog – words matter.

While many strides have been made in educating Canadians and individuals worldwide about mental illness thanks in part to initiatives like World Mental Health Day and Bell Let’s Talk Day, society still has a long way to go when it comes to eradicating the stereotypes that surround mental health disorders. Campaigns like Bell Let’s Talk certainly do a lot of hard work to shine the light on mental illness and to keep it in the forefront of people’s minds, but it’s up to us as individuals to keep that conversation going.

Any illness can make a person feel vulnerable, but unlike mental illness we often have no problem talking about “normal” medical illnesses (i.e. the common cold, flu, and so on.) However, because there is such a stigma that is still attached to mental illness, that vulnerability is even more prevalent in individuals who are struggling with keeping their mental health in check. Having a mental illness can affect everything from how you think to how you feel, how you behave, as well as your ability to be able to relate to others or simply get through your everyday routine and activities – i.e. getting out of bed each morning, falling asleep at night, brushing your teeth, going to work, going to school, shopping for groceries, and even limits (and in some cases, completely diminishes) your ability to spend quality time with friends and family.

Mental illness can be, in a word, debilitating, and it’s not uncommon for people on the outside looking in to have a certain perception of what it means to be mentally ill if they don’t fully understand it. Some of the most common misconceptions surrounding individuals with mental illness are that they are lazy, unreliable, irrational, and difficult to interact with. Mental illness isn’t always taken as seriously as it should be, either. While you might think feeling down and depressed is something that someone can simply “snap out” of after a few days, it’s much more complex than that. Less than favourable terms are also often used to describe someone with a mental illness. For example, “he/she is crazy”, “something’s wrong in their head,” etcetera. Terms like these only contribute to the stigma of mental illness, and they are why so many people still have a difficult time coming forward and reaching out for the help they know they desperately need but are too afraid to get out of fear of being judged by others – and the longer they wait to address their mental health, the more their quality of life decreases.

So what can you do to change how mental illness is discussed? The most important thing would be to pay attention to your words and make sure you choose them carefully, says family physician Dr. Ali Ghahary. Avoid using any derogatory words such as “crazy” or “psycho.” Similarly, the same thing goes for anyone struggling with drug and/or alcohol abuse. Instead of calling them “an addict”, refer to them as “someone with a substance abuse disorder.” As we’ve seen from campaigns like Bell Let’s Talk Day, mental health can actually become a positive topic of discussion once we are able to separate the disorder from the individual. This also empowers those who are struggling to see themselves in a much more positive light.