Language Matters: 3 Tips for Being More Mindful about the Words You Use

Have you ever been a part of a conversation where another person’s choice of language made you wince or worse, feel as though you’d been struck? Often we use throw-away phrases or words intended to be light or uncomplicated, but these words can hurt.

Individuals who have experienced mental health issues feel this routinely. Words have the power to make someone feel included or alone.

This year, make it your intention to be more mindful in your day-to-day language.

1. Use people-first language.
Disability Rights California suggests that if you speak with someone living with a mental health disability, remember to speak to the person first and the disability second. For example, rather than saying “bipolar person”, you might say “a person living with bipolar disorder”. Some people may prefer being referred to more generally as “a person with a mental health disability.”

2. Think before you speak.
Avoid using stigmatizing words in your everyday vernacular. Examples include crazy, insane, maniac, psycho, and lunatic. These words, and others like them, reflect false beliefs about people with mental health experiences and can be detrimental to the self-esteem of your peers and colleagues who may undergoing issues you are unaware of.

3. Share your story.
If you or someone in your family has had a mental health experience, consider speaking about it. Your willingness to share could make a difference for others – it can affirm the feelings of someone who is having a similar experience and it can also help to sensitize others to mental health issues.

This list was compiled by the Learner Equity & Wellness Office at the Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry. For more information about services and support available, please contact the LEW office.