In a nation where “political correctness” is a controversial issue, we need to do better. Regardless of which way you lean on the political spectrum, using considerate and proper language when discussing mental illnesses is important. To show respect towards everyone, here are the dos and don’ts of how to talk about mental health.
Do: Put the emphasis on the person, not the disorder.
Instead of saying “Jill is anorexic,” say “Jill is living with an eating disorder.” This is a way to prevent negative labels and degrading stereotypes. People are not their mental illness. Jill is not defined by an eating disorder, so pay close attention in making sure you are valuing the person.
Don’t: Compare their feelings to yours
When someone is confiding in you, you should not invalidate their experiences by assuming you have felt the same way they are feeling. If your friend comes to you and says that they are having a panic attack, try and stray away from telling them that you know how they feel or that you have gone through the same thing.
Do: Take every situation seriously
No conversation about suicidal thoughts, self-injury, eating disorders, etc. should be taken lightly. Let the person who is coming to you know that you hear them, you notice them, and you take them seriously. Be the safety net for them. Also, check up on them after your conversation. Thoughts of suicide do not just go away.
Don’t: Joke about it
It’s not cute to joke about wanting to kill yourself. It is disturbing how many times I hear people say “I’m going to kill myself” while laughing, as well as telling their friends to kill themselves in a joking manner. You never know who is around. You never know if your words could be a trigger to someone else.
Do: Realize the difference in emotions and mental illness
Just because you are feeling sad, that does not make you depressed. Just because you are feeling stressed that your room is messy, that does not mean you have OCD. Educate yourself on the different mental illnesses, and learn to avoid comparing your emotions and short-term feelings to a mental health disorder. This can also be a trigger to someone around you who is living with a mental illness.