How the Way We Talk About Therapy Can Help Remove the Stigma of Mental Illness

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Talking about mental health can be difficult. For many, mental health is a sensitive subject and one we aren't necessarily comfortable speaking about in public or with people we don't know very well.

Even for those working in the field of mental health and therapy, navigating the language of those topics is a delicate task that requires attention and sensitivity. The way we talk about things like mental illness, therapy, and treatment can impact the way people perceive not only the services we offer, but the way they feel about their own experiences as well.

The fact is that many stigmas exist when it comes to mental illness. Often, people approach the idea of mental illness or treatment with their own stereotypes or prejudices in mind. The language we use when we talk about mental health can further those stigmas if we aren't careful. When harmful stigmas are perpetuated, it can have serious consequences on those experiencing issues with their mental health. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, "Individuals with mental illness often internalize stigma, damaging hopes for recovery. Some don't seek treatment, and their conditions worsen." (SOURCE 1)

When we founded SonderMind, we wanted this to be a service where people know they won't face judgement or derision when they seek treatment. Making the decision to find a therapist is a brave choice, and the language we use can make a significant impact on the patient's understanding of how their therapy process will be. Our goal is to make therapy accessible, and part of that goal is making the entire process of finding therapy as comfortable and uncomplicated as we can.

For clients seeking therapy through SonderMind, our first precedent is to never assume a person's situation or feelings. When we talk about mental health conditions, we refer to them as situations that clients are "experiencing" rather than "suffering from." 1 in 5 Americans has a mental health condition of some sort, and many of those people lead productive lives. By referring to mental health conditions as something you "experience" rather than "suffer from," we can avoid implying we already know the quality of a person's life. Even more importantly, we can avoid the risk of making someone feel worse about something they are already living with on a daily basis.

We believe therapy is for everyone, whether you have a diagnosed mental illness or just need some extra support right now. When we do talk about mental illness, though, the emphasis must always be on the person and not the illness. Therapy is about gaining tools and resources to handle our lives, and that means empowering the person and not empowering the illness. For example, if someone experiences schizophrenia, we would say, "He has schizophrenia," rather than, "He is a schizophrenic." In a story with Psychology Today, Dr. David Susman Ph. D. explains this by saying, "'John has schizophrenia' puts the emphasis on the person, not his illness, while 'John is schizophrenic' equates the person with their illness and perpetuates negative labels and stereotypes about having a mental health condition." (SOURCE 2)

Similarly, we never use terms like "crazy," "psycho," or "insane" to describe a person or a person's feelings. These words, even used in jest, perpetuate the very stigmas SonderMind seeks to eliminate. When stigmas make people feel shame about their life experiences, they are less likely to seek care. Defeating stigma is a pillar of improving healthcare access.

We strive to keep in mind the power words can have over our moods and feelings. The way we communicate with each other impacts our day-to-day lives in ways both big and small. When it comes to mental healthcare, language is particularly powerful. SonderMind is committed to making mental healthcare more accessible, equitable, and stigma-free and that starts with the way we talk about it.

  1. Nami
  2. Psychology Today
Last Updated:
First Published:
November 15, 2018
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