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Choose Your Words Wisely: A Mental Health Discussion

Published on Apr. 26, 2022

Over the last two years, we have seen a significant increase in mental health conditions, highlighting the need to have conversations about mental health now more than ever. Having regular conversations about mental health reduces stigma and promotes an environment of understanding. But while it’s important to have these conversations, it’s just as important to remember the words we use matter and to be mindful of how we approach conversations about mental health. Here are a few things to keep in mind when discussing mental health with your kids.

Use language that is honest but appropriate for your child’s age and development. Being matter-of-fact and neutral when discussing mental health can help reduce stigma or fear related to sharing. Using language that promotes understanding of mental health can help a child or teenager feel more comfortable, more willing to talk and more willing to reach out for support early.

A helpful strategy when talking about mental health is using person-first language. A person is not their mental health condition in the same way a person is not their medical condition. For example, you would not say someone “is cancer,” so we would not want to say someone “is bipolar.” Consider using phrases such as “my daughter has bipolar disorder” or a “person with a mental health condition.” Using phrases that empower and provide hope can help children and teenagers feel supported.

Example Preferred Language
 Mental illness  Mental health condition
 He is bipolar.  He has bipolar disorder.
 Suffers from afflicted with  Lives with
 Mentally ill  Experiences a mental health condition
 Trauma victim  Trauma survivor

 

Words are especially important when discussing suicide. For example, saying “committed suicide” implies that suicide is a crime. By using words that are clear and neutral, you can help people feel supported and empowered to ask for help.

Example Preferred Language
 Committed suicide  Died by suicide
 Failed suicide/unsuccessful attempt  Attempted suicide/suicide attempt
 Successful or completed suicide  Died as the result of self-inflicted injury
 Chose to kill themselves  Took their own life
 Threatened  Disclosed

 

May is Mental Health Awareness Month. In recognition of this month, we encourage you to initiate these conversations with your kids. You don’t need to know all the answers or be an expert. You just need to be there to listen.

 

For parents looking for resources on behavioral health, tips for starting a conversation or to help kids reduce stress, visit valleychildrens.org/360me.

 

About the Authors

Dr. Amanda Suplee joined Valley Children’s as a pediatric psychologist in 2017 with extensive experience in children’s hospitals. She specializes in working with children with chronic medical conditions and co-occurring psychological conditions.

 

Dr. Michael Danovksy is Manager of Valley Children's Pediatric Psychology Services. His current clinical work focuses on children/teens with kidney disease (dialysis and transplant) and children with elimination disorders, as well as working with children with a variety of other medical problems who have co-existing psychological concerns.