Talking about mental illness

Mindframe provides guidance on:

  • the preferred words to use when talking about mental illness
  • how to provide provide help-seeking information
  • appropriate media reporting of suicide and mental illness.

Information on each of these is provided in this article.

Preferred language when talking about mental ill health

Certain language sensationalises mental ill-health and reinforces stigmaTerms such as ‘mental patient’, ‘nutter’, ‘lunatic’, ‘psycho’, ‘schizo’, ‘deranged’, ‘mad’A person is ‘living with’ or ‘has a diagnosis of’ a mental illness
Terminology that suggests a lack of quality of life for people with mental ill-healthReferring to someone with a mental illness as a ‘victim’, ‘suffering from’ or ‘afflicted with’ a mental illnessA person is ‘being treated for’ or ‘someone with’ a mental illness
Labelling a person by their mental illnessA person is a ‘schizophrenic’, ‘an anorexic’A person ‘has a diagnosis of’ or ‘is being treated for’ schizophrenia.
Descriptions of behaviour that imply existence of mental ill-health or are inaccurateUsing words such as ‘crazed’, ‘deranged’, ‘mad’, ‘psychotic’The person’s behaviour was unusual or erratic
Colloquialisms about treatment can undermine people’s willingness to seek helpUsing words such as ‘happy pills’, ‘shrinks’, ‘mental institution’Accurate terminology for treatments e.g. antidepressants, psychiatrists or psychologists, mental health hospital
Terminology used out of context adds to misunderstanding and trivialises mental ill-healthTerms like ‘psychotic dog’, using ‘schizophrenic’ to denote duality such as ‘schizophrenic economy’Reword any sentence that uses psychiatric or medical terminology incorrectly or out of context

What sort of help-seeking information should be included?

  • two support services that operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week
  • provide direct links to services in online content
  • include information around at least one online support service or forum
  • other service contacts where people can get information
  • include relevant information to the particular content, e.g. demographic, state or cultural diversity.

The Mindframe Support Services information card can be downloaded here.

Reporting mental ill health

The media plays an important role in shaping community attitudes to suicide and mental health. The Mindframe guidance for reporting suicide and mental ill-health can be accessed here.

For more information:

Mindframe also provides guidance on communicating about suicide. It can be accessed here.