The words we choose to say or the way we choose to represent ourselves matter. Both our words and our nonverbal actions hold a lot of power, more than we probably even realize. There are many reasons why words are so important, especially when it comes to talking about mental illness. One big reason is because they can either add or decrease the stigma that is still associated with mental illness. When we say words such as “crazy” or “psycho”, it adds to the stigma and negative view of mental illness that unfortunately still exists.
Another reason why our words are so important is because they can begin to shape how an individual actually views themselves. Whether or not it is done consciously, people will begin to believe they are only the labels other people put on them. One tangible way this is done is by describing people only by their mental illness. For example, saying someone is “a bipolar person” or saying something like, “she’s so OCD”. Phrases like this are incredibly demeaning because there is a good chance that people will start to believe that is all they are, when they are NOT only their illness. They are people first. A better way to describe someone would be to say, “a person with bipolar disorder” or “a girl who has OCD”. Do you notice the difference? The latter options put the PERSON first and not the illness. We are all people. We all have dreams, goals, and aspirations. The last thing we would want for ourselves or for our friends is to believe a person is only defined by his/her mental illness.
Along with the words we speak, our nonverbal actions are also important. There are many different nonverbal actions you can use to demonstrate mental illness or even suicide. It is very important to be aware of your actions because you never know how they could affect someone. We do not know the life experiences of each person, so when talking to others it is better to be more aware of your actions, rather than not, and end up offending or hurting someone.
Overall, our language matters. The actual words we say and the way we display ourselves to others are very important. Our language can either degrade or demean or it can encourage and empower. I’m not sure about you, but I think the second option sounds a lot more positive.
Katie Zimmerman, Project Coordinator for The Kim Foundation
Katie Zimmerman joined The Kim Foundation in June 2019. She earned her Bachelor’s Degree in Communication Studies and Sociology from Central College in Pella, Iowa. During her time in college, she volunteered at many non-profits organizations and took multiple sociology classes which focused on mental health. Katie’s role at The Kim Foundation includes running the social media accounts, assisting in the Youth Advisory Council, and providing mental health awareness and education to the community through A Voice for Hope and Healing presentations.