Today's blog is written by founder and director of Brotectors, Aaron Corria. Brotectors is a registered Social Enterprise Company, which looks to support wellbeing and challenge the stigma surrounding mental health.
How we communicate is at the core of everything important in our lives; communicating with family, friends, colleagues, and strangers is a vital part of our existence. Today’s blog is about a subject that I feel we all can improve on; it might be something you’ve experienced growing up and seen as a cultural norm during your teenage years and early adult life. Today’s subject is about the terminology we use around mental health, how we can improve our own, and how we can change attitudes and educate others.
When Brotectors was created, and the website and social media went live, it was very daunting, and I was really anxious. But what was I afraid of? I had so many irrational thoughts. Would people treat me differently? Would I be able to get another job? Would people think my mental health illness would define me? Unfortunately, in 2017 there was nowhere near as much emphasis on educating around mental health.
We have heard of the term ‘’man up,’’ but what does that mean? Act like more of a man? Be less emotional? Why is the term ‘’man up’’ so gender-specific? Only when we start to question terminology can we unravel how damaging and inaccurate these terms and phrases can be. Going back to March 2017, when I was open and honest about my mental health experiences, I remember being afraid of being labelled. I remember thinking that I would be known as the guy who has depression; I was afraid that my mental health illness would define me. Yet, having met many people and having thousands of conversations on wellbeing and mental health, I still pick up on certain terms or phrases; here are a few examples of a few I’ve come across.
‘’They are bipolar ‘’– As I’ve mentioned earlier, a mental health illness does not define you. I suffer from terrible hay fever, this doesn’t mean I am hay fever. In my experience, people who make these comments have a minimal understanding of mental health illnesses and how they can affect people, and at the same time, how these illnesses are managed. So instead of saying they are bipolar, we need to be saying "they have a diagnosis of bipolar disorder."
‘’You’re probably just tired, snap out of it, it could be worse’’ – This totally invalidates a person’s feelings and their experiences; having been through some really dark times, I wish I could have snapped out of it but having a mental health illness it isn’t as simple as that.
‘’Being negative is a choice” – Having a positive mindset or being positive is something we hear about all the time. My Instagram is filled with positive quotes from wealthy people, sports stars and movie stars. However, we would be rather foolish and gullible to believe that changing someone’s attitude or mindset would rid them of feelings of despair in an instant choice; this is called toxic positivity and can undermine people’s feelings and emotions. Toxic positivity takes positive thinking to an overenergized extreme; toxic positivity minimizes the body’s need to heal and denies the opportunity for deep, meaningful conversations.
‘’I am so OCD’’ – This is often used in a jokey way to describe yourself as being really organised or clean and house proud. Obsessive-compulsive disorder can be complicated to live with through obsessive behaviours and the need for external or internal reassurance; this can be exhausting and have a huge impact on someone’s lifestyle. People tend to link these behaviours to a mental health illness such as OCD or anxiety disorder; this can reduce the seriousness of the condition and be discouraging to people who have been diagnosed with this condition. We’ve all seen that picture that doesn’t hang straight, or the volume isn’t on an even volume level, and we feel the urge to correct it; that’s not OCD. That’s us as human beings feeling in control and reducing anxieties.
We need to be validating people’s feelings and emotions. As human beings, we try and fix situations, we can be selfish in our responses and think we know best for the person we are supporting. The truth is we have no idea how that person is feeling. What’s important is we remain present, thank the person for being honest and reassure them that we are listening. We must be non-judgemental, as you may hear something that you disagree with or are told something that may shock or take you by surprise, however, it's important to remain calm and listen. Don’t make promises you are unable to fulfil, as sometimes we aren’t able to help people in some situations. It's important to signpost to professional support and reassure them that they aren’t alone on this journey.
We all have a duty of care to speak up and challenge attitudes towards negative terminology and language. Let's take a second and consider the language we are using; words like ‘’crazy’’, ‘’psycho’’ and ‘’lunatic’’ all add to mental health stigma. It’s our duty as mental health advocates to challenge this language and educate others. It's our duty to remove the stigma and not reinforce it.
We got this.