May is Mental Health Awareness month. I know that every month and every day we should
focus on our own mental health. One way we can accomplish that is by addressing the stigma
associated with mental health.
Actually, I will replace the word stigma with discrimination. Unfortunately, discrimination is not
uncommon to those of us who live with a mental health diagnosis. Woke is a popular word
nowadays as more and more people have become “alert to injustice in society.” The term woke
is appropriately used here to describe mental health injustice and the toll it takes on countless
people who experience the stigma or discrimination of mental illness. I encourage everyone to
educate yourself on this all-important subject.
In my opinion, one of the first things we must do to end discrimination is to change the language
we use when describing mental health issues and those of us who live with a mental health
diagnosis. Terms like “crazy,” “loonie” and “off his rocker” are offensive and have no place in any
discussion about this or any topic.
Another step we can take to end discrimination is to use person-first language when describing
someone with a mental illness. We would never say, “he is cancer” or “she is diabetic.”
Speaking in this way defines a person by their illness. This also applies to people living with
mental illness. We should never say, “he is bipolar'' or “she is schizophrenic,'' since this defines
the person by their illness and discounts the wholeness of the person.
I ask for you to say, “he lives with bipolar disorder” or “she lives with schizophrenia.” In this way,
we are recognizing the individual and not merely the illness with which they live. On a personal
note, I ask that people describe my lifelong experience with bipolar disorder as, “Owen battles
his illness,” instead of “suffering” from the illness.
In my mind, the term “suffering” victimizes me. It is true that I have suffered from my illness a
small percentage of the time. More often than not, though, I have waged a personal battle in
staying healthy. My weapons are medications, therapy and other self-help techniques.
So starting today, I am asking you to change the way you speak about the one-in-five individuals
who are living with a mental illness. As many of you know, they are our loved ones, friends and
neighbors. I thank you for taking the time to read my post. You can help be the change with
ending mental health discrimination.