Language and stigma

Despite the progress we have made in the past decade, the stigma associated with mental health concerns still exists in our community. The way we talk about mental health concerns and the things we express publicly through media, social media, in our homes and in our workplaces can make a difference.

Preferred language

The language used when communicating about mental health concerns can play a big role in keeping alive stereotypes, myths and stigma.
A person is ‘living with’ or ‘has a diagnosis of’ mental illness‘mental patient’, ‘nutter’, ‘lunatic’, ‘psycho’, ‘schizo’, ‘deranged’, ‘mad’Certain language sensationalises mental health concerns and reinforces stigma.
A person is ‘being treated for’ or ‘someone with’ a mental illness‘victim’, ‘suffering from’, or ‘affected with’ a mental illnessTerminology that suggests a lack of quality of life for people with mental health concerns.
A person has a ‘diagnosis of’ or ‘is being treated for’ schizophreniaA person is ‘a schizophrenic’,
‘an anorexic’
Labelling a person by their mental health diagnosis.
The person’s behaviour was unusual or erratic‘crazed’, ‘deranged’,
‘mad’, ‘psychotic’
Descriptions of behaviour that imply existence of mental health concerns or are inaccurate.
Antidepressants, psychiatrists or psychologists, mental
health hospital
‘happy pills’, ‘shrinks’, ‘mental institution’Colloquialisms about treatment can undermine people’s willingness to seek help.
Reword any sentence that
uses psychiatric or media terminology incorrectly or out of context
‘psychotic dog’, using ‘schizophrenic’ to denote duality such as ‘schizophrenic economy’Terminology used out
of context adds to misunderstanding and
trivialises mental health concerns.

Busting myths and addressing stigma

Mental health concerns are common but are still often misunderstood. Myths and misconceptions about mental health concerns add to stigma and make life harder for the people affected.

Myth: mental health concerns are a life sentence

Fact: Most people will recover fully, especially if they receive help early. Recovery will be different for everyone and some people may require ongoing treatment to manage their mental health concerns.

Some people have only one episode and will completely recover. For others, symptoms occur only occasionally with years of being well between episodes. For a minority of those with a more severe illness, periods of acute illness may occur more regularly and, without medication and effective management, leave little room for recovery.

Myth: mental health concerns are all the same

Fact: There are many types of mental health diagnoses. Simply knowing a person has a mental health diagnosis will not tell you how well or unwell they are, what symptoms they are experiencing, or the impact on their life.

Though a particular mental health diagnosis will tend to show a certain range of symptoms, not everyone will experience the same symptoms - for example many people with schizophrenia may hear voices, while others may not.

Mental health concerns are not purely 'psychological' and can have many physical features. While a mental health concern may affect a person's thinking and emotions, it can also have strong physical effects such as insomnia, weight loss or gain, increase or loss of energy, chest pain and nausea.

Myth: people who live with mental health concerns are violent

Fact: Research indicates people receiving treatment for mental health concerns are no more violent or dangerous than the general population. People living with mental health concerns are more likely to be victims of violence, especially self-harm.

There appears to be a weak statistical association between mental health concerns and violence. This seems to be concentrated in certain subgroups, for example - people not receiving treatment, those who have a history of violence, and those who use drugs or alcohol.

Myth: some cultural groups are more likely than others to experience mental health concerns

Fact: Anyone can develop a mental health concern, and no one is immune. However, a person’s cultural background affects how they might experience mental health concerns and how they understand and interpret the symptoms.

Research exploring cultural background and mental health concerns is limited. The available data suggests people born in Australia have slightly higher rates of mental health concerns than those born outside Australia. On the other hand, many people from culturally and linguistically diverse and refugee backgrounds have experienced torture, trauma and enormous loss that can impact on distress and vulnerability to mental health concerns.

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