I'm often criticized about the negative tone my blogs or public appearances sometimes have. I don't disagree with the criticism that I've received because, yes, I do shed much needed light on the stigma and negativity surrounding mental illness. But I also believe as an advocate I could and will do more to make the public aware of the positive things they can say or do to support those mental health difficulties.
In my last posting, "Is The Way You Speak About Mental Illness Offensive?", I talked about words we use everyday and the context in which we use them that could come across as offensive to those with mental illness. Several Twitter users tweeted me and said, "If those words are negative or offensive then what words are positive or acceptable?" Once again, I turned to social media and asked people what words they found to be positive and why. The responses I received were quite minimal compared to when I asked for negative words. However, below are some words people believe to be positive to describe those with mental illness.
One of my Twitter followers suggested people use this word as opposed to the words "patient" or "clients." I asked others if they felt "consumer" was an appropriate word and they agreed it was because it described them as using a service available to them. Because the word is similar to "customer" it makes people feel as if they have a choice as to what mental health services they could use as opposed to being left with no choice as to what doctor they see or what clinic they go to.
When I talk about living with mental illness I often hear people say, "Oh that must be such a burden." Actually, it's quite the opposite. I feel like I have been given a lot of opportunities stemming from going public with my story. I have had the opportunity to be interviewed by my journalistic idol Steve Paikin about the work I've done but I've also had the opportunity to meet new people and feel as if I'm making a difference. If it wasn't for mental illness I wouldn't have experienced these opportunities.
Being diagnosed with mental illness can come as a shock to people and their families. Eventually, many people learn that this is an opportunity to grow as a person and expand your horizons. It gives you time to learn about something though while challenging it can also be fun. It's been almost 10 years since my mental illness was first diagnosed and the knowledge of my mental illness and others continues to grow.
Those of us with mental illness are a strong group of people. We face a ton of stigma and some of us even face discrimination by our friends, loved ones, or even our employers. Yet we are able to overcome these challenges because we are strong and we believe in ourselves even when others may not.
This is probably one of my favourite words to use because it is one of the most accurate words somebody could use. Those of us with mental illness face a lot of challenges but I am beyond amazed at our ability to bounce back when we feel as if we've hit rock bottom. Some of us feel like we can never get back up again but with a little bit of nudging and encouragement I've seen us get back up on our feet at our own pace.
No matter what words you use it's important that you carefully think about the impact your words will have on those around you. Ultimately it's not the words you use that offend others, it's the context in which you use them.