How we talk about
For journalists and media organisations
For journalists and media organisations
Over the centuries, the topic of mental health has been stigmatised, medicalised, and generally misunderstood. But we’re making progress in the way we think about it as a society.
Language plays an important role in helping us to continue to shake off these misconceptions, and realise mental health is actually something to be understood, nurtured, and celebrated.
This isn’t about providing a list of rules on how to talk. It’s about using words and language to convey empathy, togetherness, and dignity when talking about something we all have all the time – mental health.
Language doesn't create feelings, but it can clarify them. With the right words as tools, we can more accurately and clearly understand ourselves; better analyse and harness our thoughts and feelings, and ultimately make more sense of our inner lives.
The media industry is perhaps the most powerful platform for shaping the language we use around mental health. Journalists and the media should lead the charge, and normalise progressive and human-centered language in a mainstream environment.
Research tells us that over half of employees are not comfortable speaking up about their mental health at work. Organisations have a unique opportunity to shift the lens on how we talk about mental health; to create environments where people can bring their full selves.
Just like our mental health, language isn’t fixed; it’s always evolving. The way we talk about it has dramatically changed in the last decade – and will continue to.
This progress reflects new ideas, learnings, and developments in the field. So, if you see something in this resource that you think needs updating, let us know on our social media channels.
We’re helping to change the narrative on mental health by using open, conversational, and simple language. Can you bring these four guiding principles into your conversations?
Inaccurate and outdated language breeds misinformation and stigma. We always try to use the correct terminology and up-to-date information.
Empathy is about understanding and sharing feelings with others in a way that’s nonjudgemental and constructive.
We use people-centred language that focuses on individuality and experience, rather than using language that defines us as an illness or condition. We can be critical, but in an emotionally comforting manner.
We all have mental health all of the time.
It ebbs and flows throughout our lives and unites us as humans. We use language to convey openness, inclusivity, and community.
We use clear, simple language to describe
a complex topic
Our vision is a world where mental health is universally understood, nurtured, and celebrated. While science and psychology are the backbone of what we do, we aim to make mental health accessible to everyone.
The human brain is an incredibly complex thing, but we don’t need to sound like a medical dictionary when talking about it. We use a conversational tone in everything we write and create. We avoid jargon, and use clear, explanatory language when it comes to technical topics. We also use lots of real-life examples to add context.
The overuse of psychiatric language – like ‘depression’ and ‘anxiety’ – can medicalise what are actually normal levels of low mood or stress. This can lead to those who are experiencing serious mental ill-health getting overlooked.
So we’re careful to use those terms in the right context. Check out the “Mental health terminology demystified” section at the bottom of this page to explore some of the most common technical terms in psychology, and understand what they really mean.
Empathy and sympathy
Empathy lets us share experiences, needs, and desires with others, and helps us to make constructive change. Unlike sympathy, which means agreeing with the other person’s viewpoint and sharing their feelings, empathy is nonjudgemental. Empathy challenges us to go a step further and truly understand the other person’s situation. This helps us to distinguish between our own and others' emotions and see new perspectives.
We don’t believe in ‘normal’
We throw the word ‘normal’ around a lot in our daily lives – we talk about normal people, normal families, normal behaviours as though normality is something we can measure. But in reality, there’s no such thing as ‘normal’, our uniqueness is actually what unites us.
We use positive language
When we think of physical health, words like 'cardio', 'strength', and 'fitness' may spring to mind.
But when we do the same with mental health, too often we think 'depression', 'anxiety', and 'stress'.
If we thought of about mental health positively, we might instead associate it with creativity, problem-solving, love and laughter.
By focussing on strengths, rather than weaknesses, we’d think about the benefits of self-care, rather than the disadvantages or consequences of not doing so. Within the Unmind platform and underlying methodology, we refer to happiness rather than depression, connection rather than loneliness, and calmness rather than stress.
See the examples below for some suggestions on how you can make some changes.
We use people-centred language
Warmth is about understanding and embracing the full breadth of human nature. Our mental health is an incredibly important part of who we are, but it’s not everything we are. This is why we use warm, people-centred language that focuses on the individual first, rather than the condition or circumstances they find themselves in.
Referring to “an anorexic person” or “an addict” defines that person by their problem above their personal qualities. We’d describe them instead as a person experiencing anorexia, or someone with a substance abuse issue. By putting the person first, we want to emphasise that these conditions or circumstances are not choices, or something that defines the individual.
You might have noticed we’ve used the pronoun ‘we’ a few times in this page. That’s intentional – and it’s because we all have mental health, no matter who we are or where we sit on the spectrum.
At Unmind, we use this pronoun most often because it’s inclusive, and encourages openness, friendliness and a sense of community. We believe the conversation on mental health should be personal, compassionate, and authoritative, but never preachy. By using the term ‘we’, we’re saying that we’re all learning about our mental health together – inside Unmind and out.
Language is one tool we have to shift the conversation on mental health – but the words we use go hand-in-hand with the images we choose to pair them with.
Traditionally, mental health imagery has tended towards extremes. On the negative end of the scale, we’ll often see an image of a person with their head in their hands, or a picture of medication. These are often presented in dramatic black and white photography, accompanied by allusions to stormy weather, or brains scribbled into stylised illustrations to depict difficult experiences.
On the positive end of the scale, we often see people bearing serene smiles, perhaps running in a field, hugging a friend, or enjoying a spot of meditation in bright, soft-focus technicolor.
We are bombarded by these images from an early age, and the result is that we learn to think of mental health as a binary: good or bad, happy or sad. But for the majority of people, neither of these images are the reality of their experiences.
This is why we need to visualise mental health differently. At Unmind, we see mental health as a kaleidoscope of colours. It’s something we all have, whether we’re thriving or merely surviving – and the imagery we choose to use at Unmind is based on this core idea.
Stigma is still a barrier to good mental health.
While language can help us to present the topic in a positive, aspirational, and empowering way, the most important thing is just to have the dialogue – with our friends, loved ones, and our colleagues.
If you're looking to start more conversations about mental health in your organisation, and want to find out how Unmind can help, book a call below.