Language and Mental Health

Reading audio

18 January 2024

In recent years, more and more people have been talking about mental health. The pandemic made many people feel isolated or alone. The isolation caused some people to struggle more with their mental health.

Different countries and cultures have different ideas about mental health. In the United States, conversations about mental health and mental illness are changing. Many well-known people have come forward and shared their mental health journeys through books and social media.

As ideas about mental health change, so does the language we use to talk about the issue.

In today's Everyday Grammar, we will talk about the language of mental health.

Let's start with the question, "What is mental health?"

What is mental health?

"Mental health" contains the adjective "mental" and the noun "health." Together, the words become a compound noun meaning the conditions around one's mental and emotional well-being.

If someone has good mental health, they are in good emotional and mental condition.

Now let's look at "mental illness." Mental illness is a compound noun with the same adjective "mental," but with the noun "illness." If someone has a mental illness, they have a medical condition that affects their mind, personality or emotions.

The illness harms their mental functioning and can affect their thinking, feelings and behaviors. Examples of mental illnesses include depression and anxiety.

The word "disorder" may also be used with some mental illnesses. For example, you may know someone who has an anxiety disorder.

Person-focused language

When we talk about someone's mental health, it is important to use the right words. We want to be respectful of the person and understanding of their situation. We can use language that is centered on the person rather than their mental health issues.

One way to do this is to say a person is "living with" their condition.

The structure for this is:

Subject + verb live + preposition with + noun form of illness.

Kurt lives with anxiety.

Another acceptable and simple way to describe Kurt would be to say "Kurt has anxiety."

The structure for that is: Subject + verb have + noun form of illness.

We can use this instead of using an adjective form of their mental health condition, as in "Kurt is an anxious person."

Avoid stereotypes

It is also important to avoid certain words in some settings. For example, words like "psycho" and "crazy" may seem informal and acceptable to use, but they can cause harm. The word "psycho," when used informally, means an unstable and aggressive person.

For example: Her ex-boyfriend is such a psycho.

"Psycho" is related to "psychosis," a mental disorder in which a person has a disconnection from reality. Experts say using such words outside of a mental health discussion can lead to stigma. Stigma is a set of negative beliefs that a culture has about something. Stigma can prevent people from seeking help with their own mental illnesses.

Final thoughts

In today's Everyday Grammar we talk about the best words and language to use when talking about mental health. We learned how to use person-centered language to talk about someone with a mental illness. And we learned that some words should be avoided to help end the stigma around mental illness.

I'm Faith Pirlo.

Faith Pirlo wrote this lesson for VOA Learning English.


Words in This Story

isolated – adj. separated from other persons or things; alone; solitary

conversation n. an informal talk involving two people or a small group of people

journey – n. an act or instance of traveling from one place to another

anxiety – n. an emotional state of being worried or very concerned

disorder – n. a disease or mental problem

stigma – n. a set of negative and often unfair beliefs that a society or group of people have about something