They're just words, right? 

Wrong. Words can inspire, empower and bring hope. And just as easily they can tear you down, leaving a lasting impact on your sense of self-worth. Language has an especially big impact on how people experiencing anxiety or depression see themselves. However it also affects how others tend to think of people living with a mental health condition.

Here are five everyday sentences you might want to re-phrase and why:

  1. Someone ‘is mentally ill’ or ‘has a mental disorder’. When you suggest someone ‘is mentally ill’ you’re defining someone by their diagnosis. This is unfair as typically, experiences are treatable and may only last for a short time. Choose instead to separate the person from their condition by saying they are ‘currently experiencing’ anxiety or depression.
  2. Someone is ‘suffering’ from anxiety or depression. Using words with negative connotations such as ‘suffering’ or a ‘a victim of …’ demeans the experiences of someone living with a mental health condition and creates barriers for their recovery. Instead, try to promote hope and a more positive approach to treatment such as ‘they’re on the road to recovery.’
  3. Someone has ‘committed’ suicide. The word ‘committed’ comes from a time when suicide was treated as a crime. We now live in a world where we want to understand people who experience suicidal thoughts, and then to treat them with compassion rather than isolate them. ‘Committed suicide‘ or ‘failed attempt’ places blame and can seem accusatory. Use more appropriate language such as ‘took their own life’ or ‘attempted to end their life’.
  4. Telling someone to ‘get help’ or to ‘sort this out’. Beyond Blue research shows that people are sensitive to what words may encourage them to address their condition. ‘Get help’ can imply helplessness and an inability to be able to do something for yourself, and even a sign of weakness and failure. Instead use phrases such as ‘talk to someone’, ‘seek support’ and ‘make positive changes’.
  5. Telling someone that they ‘are not alone’. Feedback to Beyond Blue from people who have experienced anxiety and depression is that when ‘you are not alone’ is used, it is often a token comment and unhelpful. When used by someone who doesn’t know the person directly, this term can seem insincere and trivialises what people feel and experience. 

Remember – being more mindful of the language we use when addressing and describing anxiety and depression goes a long way to encouraging people to seek support at the right time.

If you’re worried about someone and want to reach out to support them, check out the simple tips on our Conversations page.

Related reading: What not to say to someone with depression

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