Blog > Language matters

September 24, 2014

It matters more than you think. The language we use reveals a lot. The language I use as a facilitator reveals a lot about me (so much so that Sascha Rixon did a whole PhD on facilitation language) and the language you use can be like an open door, welcoming me into your world, or like a barrier, holding me at a distance so as I don’t get too close. Many of us use language without giving it a second thought.

This article by Hannah Jane Parkinson in the Guardian about what not to say to someone with bipolar disorder, has one of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever read. Yes, it’s about language. It’s the difference between ‘is’ and ‘has’ – such small words, such a world of difference.

Hannah writes: I think it is more polite to say someone “has bipolar” than “is bipolar”. You wouldn’t say that somebody “was cancer”. You wouldn’t say: “This is Maya. She is diabetes.” But people will talk of someone “being bipolar”.

This, I think, is true of anyone suffering any mental illness: they are not depressed, they have depression; they are not anxious, they suffer anxiety; they are not bipolar, they have bipolar.  This helps me situate mental illness where it belongs, as a recoverable illness, not as a defining characteristic of a person.

I’m also supporting the ABC’s Mental As initiative for Mental Health Week 5 – 12 October. It’s worth checking out the huge variety of stories people tell about mental illness. It’s all part of breaking down the stigma.

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