From Stigma to Inclusion: Words to Avoid When Talking About Mental Health

While we don’t always pay attention to the words we say, they can sometimes leave deep imprints on those who hear them. This is especially true when it comes to mental health. The way people talk about these issues shapes your views on them. When people use phrases that put those with mental health concerns down, it sends a very invalidating message. It can convey that these concerns are not important enough. People who are struggling with mental health issues may feel like their experiences are not being taken seriously or are being minimized.

We can instead use language to be more inclusive and sensitive. Using words that puts the person first instead of their diagnosis is one way to go about it. Instead of saying something like, “they are depressed,” rephrasing it like, “they’re suffering from depression,” is a better alternative. 

Moreover, with the rise of “pop psychology,” a lot of psychological words and terms have entered into common use. People might use them without understanding the significance of these words. Here are a few words related to mental health that are often misused and what they can be replaced with:

  1. OCD

A lot of people often confuse OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder) with simply being organized and meticulous. OCD is not an adjective but a psychological disorder. Instead of saying something like, “They’re so OCD”, you can use adjectives like:

  • Neat

  • Particular 

  • Orderly 

  • Detail-oriented 


The word “bipolar” is often used to talk about anything that changes often and rapidly. More sensitive alternatives would be: 

  • Erratic

  • Unpredictable 

  • Inconsistent

  • Prone to change 

  1. TOXIC

While we commonly understand toxic to mean anything that isn’t good for one’s well-being, the word is used around too casually which can downplay its seriousness. Instead of saying toxic, you can use these alternatives:

  • Harmful

  • Counterproductive

  • Unhealthy

  • Unhelpful  


Feeling nervous or scared is a completely normal response sometimes. However, many people might casually throw around the term panic or anxiety attack to refer to their emotional state. Instead, you can use words and phrases like:

  • Nervousness

  • Overwhelmed

  • Feeling out-of-control

  • Episode of stress

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From Stigma to Inclusion: Words to Avoid When Talking About Mental Health

From Stigma to Inclusion: Words to Avoid When Talking About Mental Health