As we celebrate May as Mental Health Month, it’s important to be honest about the ongoing disparities in how we view mental health conditions and how we look at other chronic health conditions.

Power in words

Just think of the words that we hear every day in our schools, workplaces and communities: crazy, nuts, insane, psycho. There are also the distortions of the diagnoses themselves. A person is “schizo” if he changes his mind, or “OCD” if she keeps a neat desk.

"Do we misuse the diagnosis of conditions such as melanoma, lymphoma or leukemia? No. What would it be like if we lived in a world where the same could be said for mental health?"

Neither of these accurately describes these conditions. Schizophrenia, for example, has nothing to do with changing your mind or split personalities. It’s a condition characterized by hearing voices and delusional thinking. People with obsessive-compulsive disorder get thoughts stuck in their head and are unable to free themselves from constant worry.

Misusing these medical terms to describe normal human reactions belittles them and makes those who have the medical conditions feel worthless and detested.

The movement

What kind of slang do we use to describe cancer, diabetes, and heart disease? Do we misuse the diagnosis of conditions such as melanoma, lymphoma or leukemia? No. What would it be like if we lived in a world where the same could be said for mental health? And how many more people would be willing to recognize their mental illnesses and get help?

A number of groups have begun a movement to improve the lives of individuals and families affected by mental illness. Their efforts include ending the stigma and discrimination these individuals face daily, offering education classes, support groups and community presentations in schools, workplaces, houses of worship and other organizations.  

Everyone plays a part

Taking action includes challenging someone who uses slang words for mental illness, explaining why the words are wrong and how they can discourage people from seeking help when they need it or interfere with recovery.

Hope and recovery often come from speaking out and helping others.