“Well, when you put it like that…”
We’ve all had conversations when our opinions are challenged, our perspectives questioned. When we share our thoughts with others, our word choice and phrasing matters – how else can someone understand our point of view? Over the years, I’ve learned that the way I talk about my mental health hasn’t always been perfectly reflective of my attitude. And that phrase – when you put it like that – is one I say often. When I hear my words from someone else’s mouth, I realized how wrong I was, and that’s why I change my mental health vocabulary on a very regular basis.
Now, what exactly do I mean by my ‘mental health vocabulary’? There are plenty of ways we can improve how we talk about mental health and work to have better conversations about the topic, but what I want to talk about today is even more specific. When I talk about my own mental health vocabulary, I’m thinking of the words and language I use to describe my life and approach to my mental health struggles.
As you can imagine, my mental health vocabulary isn’t always the most positive. And while it can be difficult to change a negative mindset to a positive one, it never crossed my mind that my attitude toward my own mental health could be rooted in my vocabulary. The words and phrases I use matter in the mental health community, so why wouldn’t they matter in my own life as well?
Over time, I’ve been able to reflect on some of the words and phrases I use to describe my mental health struggle. I’ve noticed patterns and common phrases, and I’ve remembered times when I accurately described my situation. On the other hand, I also noticed how much I used repetitive language – to the point where I was saying things not because they were true, but because I’d used the words and phrases for so long that they rang true whether I believed them or not.
So, how can we work to change our own mental health vocabulary? Just like other parts of our mental health journeys, changing our vocabulary takes time, and it isn’t necessarily a linear journey – we could improve our vocabulary one way while damaging it in another. In order to change how we talk about our own mental health, we need to reflect on our own perspective, and try to key in on some of the words we use often. Ask a close friend or family member if there are phrases we constantly use, and figure out if that wording is accurate. Try to understand when you’re accurately describing how you feel as opposed to using the same language you’ve used for years.
This isn’t easy work, but it can lead to significant breakthroughs for more than just one person. The community discussion surrounding mental health is important, but if individual people can shift how they talk about their own mental health, that can improve the larger discussion. Words matter. Mental health matters. It’s time we brought those ideas together.