The Language That Defines Mental Illness

October 10, 2011 Natalie Jeanne Champagne

The language of mental illness is damaging, it hurts, and it can make recovery more difficult than it has to be. Why not change the language of mental illness?

Try these words on: Mental illness, mentally ill, relapse, psychiatry, psychiatrist, psychotropic medication, anti-psychotics, mania, depression, social isolation, side-effects, sickness, disease. How do these words feel applied to you as a person with a mental illness?

I can tell you how they make me feel: Awful, stigmatized, labeled. They make you feel alien. They make you feel alone. Unique in your illness. You might feel like you are the the brisk notes your psychiatrist jots down as you talk to her. You might wonder if those words, scribbled with medical jargon, define you as a person

The language of mental illness is damaging, it hurts, and it can make recovery more difficult than it has to be. Remember elementary school? I remember very little, bagged lunches and sticker books, but I do recall the following statement: "Sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never hurt me." It seems ironic now, twenty years later. Words hurt. I would rather have things thrown at me than to be being called crazy, sick, mentally ill. But I have a mental illness.

Separating Yourself from the Language of Mental Illness

This might seem like an easy feat, but it usually is not. It is one of the hardest things I have had to do. Separate myself from words like crazy. If you have just been told that you have a mental illness, your mind immediately conjures up societal notions of what a mentally ill person looks like, how they behave, living on the outskirts of society.

Then you begin to realize that you are not defined by a package of negative words and labels. You are, instead, the same person you were before. Life involves new things: Educating yourself on the disease, trying different medications, and working to figure out who your support system is, but you are still the same person who likes certain music and prefers certain food. The little things, that is what defines a person. Recovering from mental illness requires people to separate themselves from the negative language that often defines it.

The Language of Mental Illness Recovery

bigstock_words_2921811Try these words on: Remission, success, friendship, support, achievement, life, love, support, self-care, health, wellness, and, above all, recovery. I like these words. And so should you. But keep in mind, they too do not define you as a person. They are simply positive words, words that do not make recovery more difficult but instead a little easier. These are words that you can carry with you throughout life, and refer to them when you feel a little low. When you are confused about the illness, as we all are at some point in our lives.

Language that Defines you as a Person

It is important apply positive language to the recovery process, but it is equally important to remember what defines you. You are not just a person with a mental illness. Perhaps you are person that goes running in the summer, maybe you are a great mother or caring sister. You have goals and aspirations. Your morals are probably still the same, and all of the things that make you unique are more important than the diagnosis of the disease. Recovery is as much about proper treatment as it is about maintaining the sense of self you had before the diagnosis.

APA Reference
Jeanne, N. (2011, October 10). The Language That Defines Mental Illness, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, June 13 from

Author: Natalie Jeanne Champagne

lana jayne conder
August, 24 2022 at 2:25 pm

loved your aerticle...please send me more

Chris Curry
January, 4 2013 at 6:09 am

Excellent article! I could not agree more.

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