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'Mad, loony, mental, psycho or schizo': Behind every mental health diagnosis is a person

It could easily be you who needs someone to start a conversation in the future, writes Nicola Hampson.

Image: Shutterstock/Raihana Asral

OUR ABILITY FOR higher communication, we’re told, is what sets us apart from other species on the planet.

We also know that although body language is more effective than spoken language, it’s this form of communication that we rely on most.

Language has a crucial role in our society but has its own pitfalls as both the sound and content of language influences us, crucially often without us realising.


Consider some descriptions: A call centre worker with a regional accent, a swearing youth in a pub, an upper class gent on the phone. Each of these descriptions will have created an image in your mind based on your own personal belief systems.

That is “prejudice”, forming a judgement with often minimal facts. This is why we say making a good first impression is important, it’s more difficult to change a view/opinion once it’s made.

More potent than the sound of the language uttered is the content of any conversation itself. As May is Mental Health Awareness month I shall use mental health as the subject to illustrate my discussion.

Negative connotations

If someone is referred to as having mental health difficulties, what descriptors spring to mind (remember these are your prejudices)? Mad, loony, bonkers, mental, psycho, schizo?

There are many and society has given all of them a negative connotation in common. This negativity and inherent disapproval often comes due to ignorance or fear, which although understandable is stigmatising. Stigma is the use of negative labels to identify people as different.

See Change’s Green Ribbon campaign aims to break down the stigma around mental health and it’s not a moment too soon. Figures state that 1 in 4 of us will experience a mental health difficulty in our lifetimes. This means everyone of us will either be affected or have a family member affected. That warrants a pause, now reconsider the words you would want said about your mother, uncle or sister if they experienced a mental health difficulty.

Less emotive vocabulary

I bet it won’t be mad, loony, bonkers, mental, psycho or schizo? I’d wager the words would be less emotive, more factual. Possibly a broad term like mental health difficulty, which is the term I associate with, or alternatively the name of the specific diagnosis.

All of the following terms refer to some of the diagnoses on the mental health continuum: depression, bulimia, bi-polar (mood disorder), psychosis, anxiety, schizophrenia, anorexia nervosa.

These terms all have a medical feel to them and that is how it should be. Anyone who experiences a mental health difficulty requires medical support, at least initially.

However, behind every diagnosis is a person, someone who is more than likely able to discuss their situation on a one-to-one basis as well as how you can help them.

Having these conversations can be awkward at first, isn’t everything at the beginning? But practice makes perfect. It could easily be you who needs someone to start a conversation in the future.

So this May, wear your green ribbon and have a conversation around mental health with at least one person and remember, watch your language.

Nicola Hampson is a See Change Ambassador. She first experienced mental health difficulties in her mid-twenties after an incident of self-harming. From that time until her first hospital admission over twenty years later she survived outside the system without knowing she had bi-polar mood disorder. Today life is not so fast or so full and she is beginning to find out who she is and what she needs going forwards. 

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