With the COVID-19 pandemic raging outside, people have been forced to stay put in their safety bubble to avoid contracting the virus. This has effectively cut them off from the company of their loved ones. For a large percentage, the pandemic has forced them to live in unfavorable conditions. As a result of these circumstances, people have developed serious mental health issues and have aggravated those already existing.
Mental illness comes with the baggage of stigma even in this day and age when sensitization camps all around have worked so hard to raise awareness. Often, this stigma is internalized by the patients, who are thus discouraged from seeking medical assistance for their mental health issues. According to the various experts working at suboxone clinics near me, using appropriate language around them can help them overcome this stigma.
Why does language matter?
Records of mental illness and distress among the youth have reached an all-time high in recent times. This shows that people have been encouraged to come forward with their mental health struggles. Despite that, the alarmingly high rate of self-harm and suicide among this demographic from psychological issues suggests that the stigma around mental illness is far from being reduced. Not only young people and adolescents but the older and mature population avoid seeking treatment for fear of being judged.
Stigma and toxic language:
In medical terminology, stigma has been defined as a negative and discriminatory attitude toward a person or group with specific distinguishing characteristics. This view of otherness is very harmful and discredits the victim of their natural personhood, says a medical professional from sublocade treatment clinics Providence. They are seen as inferior individuals and shunned away from society just because they don’t fit societal norms.
Much of the stigma around mental illness is propagated through the casual use of specific linguistic tendencies. Since communication through language is part and parcel of our daily lifestyle, inappropriate words used deliberately or unintentionally affect the patient, especially when they are in such a sensitive condition.
Commonly used slang terms and problematic language often act as triggers for people who have been verbally abused and bullied in the past because of their differences. Even the media portrayals of mentally ill people often feed the stigma by showing negative stereotypes, and reactions often ignore real victims’ lived experiences. Medical terminology that refers to mental illness is often trivialized in these narratives and is imbibed by the general population. The misuse of clinical terms like “schizophrenia,” “OCD,” and “depression” feed the stigma around them.
Appropriate language to beat stigma:
Language is a system that keeps on evolving. Some words that would have been fine in their original context might appear outdated and even offensive in the current context. The brain relates these words automatically through “associative activation” to an idea that may trigger other distressing thoughts. From this, emotional, behavioral, and physical responses are produced instantaneously.
According to suboxone treatment doctors Worcester, if the same logic is applied positively, then it can be said that the brain reacts promptly to affirmative words as well. Since language is emotionally charged, a positive lexicon makes mentally unwell patients feel better about themselves, seek medical help, and continue treatment.
At least one out of five people are susceptible to experiencing mental health issues that can also include substance abuse. Therefore, how one talks about mental illness in their immediate social circles is of critical importance.
How to use appropriate language around people with mental illness:
The COVID-19 virus itself can cause neuropsychiatric illness besides mental challenges that arise from the containment measures. Medical experts at sublocade treatment clinics advise being kind and thoughtful while interacting with others in these trying times.
What to avoid saying:
- Using negative terminology flippantly. Words like “crazy,” “psycho,” or “schizo” to describe someone’s personality or actions stigmatizes people diagnosed with Schizophrenia.
- Calling someone “OCD” when they appear to be clean and organized. The symptoms of Clinical Obsessive Compulsive Disorder may vastly differ from these generalizations.
- The word “bipolar” while experiencing natural mood swings. It stigmatizes people who have Bipolar Disorder, belittling their struggles.
- Calling a thin person “anorexic.” Eating disorders like anorexia nervosa do not only refer to weight loss. They involve several other mental and physical difficulties and differ significantly.
- Depression is widely different from sadness. It’s not the same as referring to the feeling of general sadness that one may feel from time to time.
- Talking about taking one’s own life, albeit jokingly or lightheartedly when frustrated and embarrassed, feeds to that stigma of people who are suicidal. They do not want to take their lives at the slightest inconvenience, and this assumption discredits their existence.
What to say instead:
Each person perceives different words in their way. The meaning of the terms may be profound to some while being insignificant to others. So, it is best to ask the individual how they prefer their illness to be talked about or, more importantly, if they want to talk about their mental health problems at all. Unless it is a healthcare provider, one has no obligation to talk about their mental health.
- Using language in a way that avoids implying mental illness as a moral failure, character flaw, or deviance. It is just a group of diseases like any other physical illness. Therefore, it should be treated similarly. Many people assume it is impossible to recover from mental health issues, and this wrong perception is highly evident from the way they talk about it. While talking to patients, it should be kept in mind that recovery is possible, and they should be encouraged to keep up with their treatment from programs like Recovery Connection.
- Let the patients come out and talk about their lived experiences with mental illnesses. It is a better approach to reach out to them than assuming things about their mental health. Conveying to them that it is a safe space to share their thoughts and feelings is of utter importance.
- Some patients favor labeling their diagnosis. They find naming their illness quite comforting and manageable, rather than it not having a name and appearing as an enigma of some sort. It also helps them in continuing diagnosis and seeking medical benefits. On the other hand, others may not prefer to do so. It is entirely up to the concerned patient if they want to use labels or reject them. The people around them should be totally aware of this choice while addressing the patient’s illness.
- The stigma around mental illness often takes the social roles of a person away from them – they are considered inadequate as a parent, sibling, spouse, co-worker, volunteer, or student. The suboxone clinics advise avoiding such isolation. The diagnosis of mental ill-health and substance use does not define someone’s entire existence. So, addressing someone just as a mentally unwell person, service user, suboxone patient, or schizophrenic should not be done since it might make them defensive. Instead of a unique set of vocabulary, most people diagnosed with mental health issues prefer to be referred to with usual terms.
- Person-centered language acts as the most popular solution to these concerns. This kind of language allows the diagnosis to be identified but provides enough space between the individual and the concern. For example, a person may start misusing drugs for multiple reasons and under challenging circumstances. So, suboxone treatment doctors say that calling them an “addict” does not really help in this case. Person-centered language refers to them as a “person struggling with substance use” and is much more welcome.
- There has been a cultural shift towards derogatory terms being reclaimed by people with mental illness and substance use. This helps them cope with the stigma that follows a mental ill-health diagnosis. But it may not be accurate for everyone. It is best not to use derogatory language even with good intentions. What is empowering when the patient refers to themselves may not be acceptable when it comes from others.
The suboxone treatment centers strive to raise awareness about how mental illness, especially depression, has become an epidemic across the country and the world. Statistics say that around 40 million Americans are affected every year with anxiety disorders. For this massive percentage of the population to receive a proper diagnosis, the power of language should be realized to reduce the stigma.
Although the opioid crisis was widely reported to raise awareness among the public, only 18% of patients with Opioid Use Disorder had received treatment in 2019. Such is the stigma around treatment for mental illness and substance use. Three effective drugs were available during this time at suboxone treatment centers Natick and elsewhere, yet people were reluctant to seek help.
Arecent study conducted by the National Institutes of Health, published in July 2021, addresses language, articulation, and the stigma around mental illness. It was found that using scientifically accurate language and terminology that focuses on the patient’s experience proves to be beneficial for the patient as they validate their worth. They can also have a positive impact on how the patient is treated within the healthcare systems and society at large.