“Well, if you put it that way …”
We’ve all had conversations when our opinions were challenged and our perspectives challenged. When we share our thoughts with others, our choice of words and phrasing are important – how can anyone else understand our point of view? Over the years I’ve learned that the way I talk about my sanity doesn’t always reflect my attitude perfectly. And this phrase – if you put it that way – I say a lot. When I heard my words come from someone else’s mouth, I realized how wrong I was, and that’s why I regularly change my mental health vocabulary.
What exactly do I mean by my “Mental Health Vocabulary”? There are many ways we can improve the way we talk and work about mental health to have better conversations about the subject, but what I want to talk about today is even more specific. When I talk about my own mental health vocabulary, I think of the words and language that I use to describe my life and my approach to my mental health problems.
As you can imagine, my mental health vocabulary isn’t always the most positive. And while it can be difficult to turn a negative attitude into a positive one, it has never occurred to me that my attitude towards my own mental health might be ingrained in my vocabulary. The words and phrases I use play a role in the mental health community. Then why shouldn’t they play a role in my own life too?
Over time, I was able to ponder some of the words and phrases that I use to describe my mental health struggle. I noticed patterns and common expressions and remembered times when I described my situation in detail. On the other hand, I also noticed how often I used repetitive language – to the point where I said things, not because they were true, but because I had used the words and phrases for so long that they sounded true, whether I told them believed or not.
So how can we work on changing our own mental health vocabulary? Just like other parts of our mental health trips, changing our vocabulary takes time and it’s not necessarily a linear journey – we could improve our vocabulary in one way while damaging it in another. To change the way we talk about our own mental health, we need to think about our own perspective and try to type in some of the words that we use frequently. Ask a close friend or family member if there are phrases we use all the time and find out if they are correct. Try to understand when you are describing exactly how you are feeling instead of using the same language you’ve been using for years.
This is not an easy job, but it can lead to significant breakthroughs for more than one person. The community mental health discussion is important, but if individual people can change their minds about their own mental health, it can improve the larger discussion. Words are important. Mental health is important. It’s time to bring these ideas together.