- by Connie
Recently I’ve been thinking about how the words we use can determine how we and others feel. Having studied PR at a masters level means I think a lot about how simply changing one word in a slogan or catch-phrase can completely transform the overall message. I thought about the effect of words particularly during one of the projects I worked on. Without saying who it was I was working for, my client wanted to raise awareness for their work and encourage people in difficult scenarios and environments to open up about their mental health and to seek help when they needed it.
One of the difficulties that my client found was that people were reluctant to seek help, or admit they were struggling because it make them sound weak. And the more I thought about it the more I realised how the current mental health discussion uses words that do make mental health and those who seek mental healthcare sound weak and pathetic. Even in the sentence I used earlier; ‘admitting’, ‘struggling’… all these phrases sound like someone with mental health issues are lacking something. It sounds like they need to be ashamed.
For my client, I changed one word in the proposed campaign. Rather than saying ‘Mental Health’ the term was rephrased ‘Mental Well-being’. By changing this one word, it changed the conversation from sounding like mental illness made one feeble or inadequate, and made mental health care sound like a natural part of overall health care. I think its really important to change the words we use around mental health and mental well-being. We need to use language that encourages, builds and strengthens people. So rather than saying ‘admitting’, we could say ‘allowing’ or ‘seeking’. Rather that ‘struggling’ we could say ‘encountering’ or ‘working through’.
We talk so much about raising awareness , and having conversations about mental well-being. I think that it’s important now to make active changes, to take action in a way that normalises mental illness and shows how resilient and strong people with mental illnesses are. The its not just what we might mean, but how we say it. So many times, there have been instances where when trying to encourage someone, or help them, a person has actually caused more anxiety or unhappiness. If in doubt, always ask. If there is someone you want to talk to about how they’re doing mentally ask them how they’d like to be asked. Or ask them if there are any words or phrases to avoid. This was you can be sure that you are choosing the right words to bring about positive change and growth, or even when necessary a challenge.
Are there words or phrases that you think can cause more damage then good? Please let me know in the comments below, or on social media.
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