As with many aspects of modern life, mental health has its share of outdated terms and words that aren’t a useful part of the conversation moving forward. 

There’s no question that we’ve come a long way when it comes to understanding mental health conditions and tailoring language appropriately, but there’s still work to be done. 

Below is a collection of some of the jargon and outdated definitions and terms that we should be changing to improve the mental health conversation overall.

Mental Illness – Using this as a blanket term to define just about any kind of mental health issue is a little too broad and can be seen as disrespectful to the specific condition someone may be facing. It’s true that some people may not want their precise diagnosis revealed, but it’s important to use language to acknowledge that not all mental health issues are the same.

Committed Suicide – This term has been used forever, but it’s no longer part of the conversation when speaking of mental health. When we say that someone ‘committed’ suicide, it creates the perception that they committed a crime and is a negative connotation that doesn’t need to be there. Instead, the term ‘died by suicide’ is more acceptable. Also, it’s a good idea to stop saying that a suicide attempt was failed or successful.

Crazy, Insane, or Nuts – Insensitive words such as these to describe someone with mental health issues or someone displaying unusual behavior who may have a mental health problem have no place in modern mental health conversations. Many people use them flippantly and may not even mean anything by them, but that’s part of why they can be harmful.

Addict or Junkie – Using derogatory terms that are related to addiction or the misuse of drugs and alcohol is insensitive, and certainly doesn’t serve the person that needs help. These words have strong, negative associations and shouldn’t be part of the landscape in positive mental health conversations. Instead, use terms like substance use issue or disorder to describe a problem with drugs or alcohol.

Brain Damaged or Demented – These are two more words that have found their way into everyday lingo when describing people or situations that have nothing to do with a particular injury or mental health issue. It’s increasingly uncommon to hear someone with dementia described as being demented, which is a good thing, but it’s important to keep that going. Say that someone ‘has a brain injury’ or ‘has dementia’ instead of using derogatory terms from the past.

Paranoid Schizophrenia – This is an outdated term that is no longer used by mental health professionals. It was used to describe a subtype of schizophrenia that included noticeable paranoia and delusions, but it has been removed from the list of official diagnoses and should no longer be used. This is especially true in everyday interactions if you encounter someone who is acting irrationally.

These are just a few of the terms that are outdated and should no longer be used if our goal is to improve mental health conversations and make the world a safer place for everyone. 

Some others include neurotic, asylum, hysteria, psychopath, and lunatic. And while it’s still important to respect each individual’s preference for how they want to refer to their own mental health status, keeping these guidelines in mind and avoiding outdated terms will help keep us pointed in the right direction.

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