Whether you are talking to someone else or talking to yourself, words have meaning and power.

Words change the way we think about and receive messages. You might have noticed that terms in the mental health field have changed over time as our field evolves.

Choosing your words carefully isn’t about being politically correct, it is about being thoughtful. In fact, let’s just erase the term “politically correct” from our vocabulary and realize that when words have meaning, we must choose the right words to describe any situation.

Words have a huge connection to our mental health.

Did you know that saying something positive to yourself, even if you don’t believe it, can work to change your perspective? This is why mantras can be so powerful. When self-doubt creeps in, mantras (in this case, we use mantras as a prepared positive response) can build self-confidence as they remind us of our truths and values of who we want to be. Some popular mantras include:

just keep swimmingJust keep swimming.

You are strong enough to handle this.

Do the next right thing.

This feeling is temporary.

Take this one day at a time.

What mantra do you use?

Words in Conversations (with yourself and others)

When talking about mental health, using the right phrases affect your perspective, as well as the perspective of those with whom you are talking. It goes a long way of removing the stigmas associated with mental health as well.

Here are a few examples to help you navigate possible changes to your vocabulary.

Say this: Mental health care or mental wellness
Don’t say this: Mental illness

It is important to recognize that mental health is a universal issue that we are all working with (especially these days). Just like with physical health, where we’re trying to get in better shape; our mental wellness is something we’re trying to get in better shape too.

Using the words “health” or “wellness” is better suited to the general topic than illness. You could also use the term “mental health challenges” to discuss issues you or someone else is struggling with.

Say this: “This isn’t a priority for me right now.”
Don’t say: “I should’ve done this.”

This change in wording isn’t just for the person receiving the message, it is for you, too. “I should’ve done this” just beats yourself up for what you didn’t accomplish. Instead, by saying “I didn’t get to that. That isn’t a priority for me,” it gives yourself permission to be okay with how you choose to spend your time. The same goes for changing “I have to” to “I’m going to.” This subtle difference changes the outlook, attitude and mood about the choices you make.

This works for invitations too.

If you want to decline an invitation, instead of saying “Oh no, I can’t” say “That would be fun on another day and time, but I’m not comfortable doing that today.” Or “I have so many pressing things right now. I don’t think I am able to make that a priority right now. Thank you for the kind invitation.”

Say this: “I can’t do this YET”
Don’t say: “I can’t do this.”

If you follow our social media or monthly newsletters, you’ve heard us talk about this super power word – YET. By just adding this three-letter word to the end of your sentence, you give yourself the grace to learn or grow from your challenges.

For example, in our previous blog post about reframing your thoughts, we mentioned the comment “I can’t solve this math problem. I am stupid.” We discussed that reframing the thought to say “I struggle with math and this problem is particularly hard for me.”

But think of it in this simpler term: “I can’t solve this math problem YET.” Am I really stupid? Of course not. I am good at a lot of things, I just struggle with math.

By catching the narrative in your brain, you’ll be able to rephrase your words to something more positive. By changing your narrative a little bit, it allows you to be more kind to yourself. Bonus points: It also gives you an optimistic outlook.

Just remember

When working on your words, just try to avoid sensationalizing mental health issues. Try humanizing it instead. Saying the right diagnoses and using the correct terms will go a long way toward removing the stigmas associated with mental health challenges. This isn’t always going to be easy or correct the first time. But the more we all practice using the right words when we talk about mental health, the easier it will become.

What’s another mental health term you think people should consider changing?


Disclaimer: The contents of the Jewish Family Service of San Antonio blog are for general use or informational purposed only. The content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. The use of any information contained on this site is solely at your own risk. If you would like to speak in detail with a licensed therapist, please email referrals@jfs-sa.org.

If you have a medical emergency, please call 911 or your doctor right away.