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Talk isn't cheap - it's costing us lives

As first seen in Tincture

Conversations about mental health are starting. Conversations that are long overdue, considering mental health problems affect 1 in 4 people. And doubtless they are beginning to chip away at the stigma associated with mental health problems — but that stigma is still monumental and a significant barrier to people seeking or accessing help.

Yet what of the language we use in speaking about mental health problems?

‘A rose, by any other name, would smell as sweet’, Shakespeare said.

While this may be true, discussing the rose only as a ‘green stick with thorns spiked sharply enough to draw blood topped with a reproductive organ’ instantly changes the tone of the conversation. This language shapes the way you see the rose, and how you use it. It no longer seems like such a good idea to send them to someone on Valentine’s Day.

The language of mental health problems certainly has a thorny legacy. It’s a past we must shed and overcome if we are to really break down stigma on a deep, effective and lasting level. This past still pervades and influences the common, everyday language used for mental health problems. The words used are steeped in the blood and suffering of social injustice and religious and political dogma, and can’t fail but to leave a shadow of negativity, prejudice and fear lingering from the Dark Ages.

Historically, some religious beliefs were considered to be symptoms of mental health problems. Or mental health problems were seen as demonic possessionor witchcraft — at the time the vestiges of paganism were being branded as absolute evil throughout Europe. The affected were burned at the stake or driven from villages. The term lunacy dates from 1540s to describe cyclical insanity linked to phases of the moon. Indeed, lyncanthropy — being a werewolf — could be considered one our oldest endemic psychoses in Europe.Or more simply women being characterized as ‘hysterical’ since it emanated from the womb. And the world was seen as flat.

Fast forward a century or two and we’re still actively failing to help those in need. Take suicide for example. It’s commonly referred to today as being ‘committed’. Crimes are also ‘committed’, so it’s not hard to see the negative associations present in the use of this word. In fact, suicide was illegal until the