The power of language

Mental health. What do you understand that to mean?

Of course by mental health we often mean mental ill-health: “I’m seeing someone about my mental health”, “he’s an in-patient in a mental health unit”. How come mental health is used to mean mental ill-health? What is that about? People talk about the stigma of mental health – isn’t it the stigma of mental ill-health that we should be talking about? After all, don’t we all aspire to mental health?

The NHS website says that:

“Psychiatry is a medical field concerned with the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of mental health conditions.”

Mental health conditions … mental health problems … mental health challenges… psychiatric illness – what’s in a word? Undoubtedly there’s a stigma associated with psychiatry, psychiatric illness, psychiatric units etc, but unfortunately if we call it something else the stigma still sticks. Until we rethink our attitudes to health and illness I suspect we can’t escape from stigma.

To be honest geriatrics is probably just as stigmatising.

The World Health Organization says that:

“Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.”

So health is mental and physical, not just one or the other. And can I be healthy if I have an ongoing physical or mental condition? For example, what if I’ve got diabetes (stable on treatment) or a bipolar illness (stable on treatment) or even both? Tricky isn’t it, (and maybe even more tricky if we bring social well-being into consideration).

Is anyone truly healthy?

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