No Name-Calling Week, observed from January 17 – 21, reminds us how important it is to be mindful of what we say to others. Unkind words, name-calling, and insults often leave emotional scars and impact mental health. Emotional and verbal abuse can result in anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and even suicide.

Being aware of the words we use is especially important when talking about mental health. Words can either increase or decrease the stigma that still surrounds mental illness.

Why words matter

The words we choose are so important because they can shape how a person views themselves.

Research has shown that people with mental illness and substance use disorders often feel alone and judged by society- even within the healthcare system that is supposed to support them. This can lead them to delay, avoid, or stop seeking treatment altogether.

Another reason why words matter so much in regards to mental illness is that the people who live with them are often referred to as their condition rather than a person who happens to have the condition. For example: “John is bipolar” versus “John has bipolar disorder.” This is called “person-first language,” Although everyone’s personal preferences are different, it’s important to remember that a person is not defined by their diagnosis.

Since we don’t know every person’s experience, it’s always better to try and be more aware of what we say. The words we choose hold a lot of power- often more than we realize.

Common derogatory terms mental health issues

There are over 250 labels used to stigmatize people who live with mental illness.

Unbeknownst to many, some words and phrases that are part of our everyday vocabulary; things that we may not think twice about saying- are considered offensive to people who live with mental illness.

Many feel that using these terms in an inaccurate or insulting way spreads misinformation, creates misconceptions, minimizes the seriousness of these conditions and the experience of those who live with these diagnoses.

Some of the most common disparaging phrases (or variations of) used today are:

“You’re such a schizo.”

“I’m so OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder).”

“She’s looney.”

“He’s mental.”

“I’m so bipolar.”

“You’re psycho.”

“She looks anorexic.”

Outdated medical terminology that was once used to describe people with mental and behavioral disorders is still used to demean and insult people today. Words like “Imbecile,” “Moron,” “Idiot,” and “Hysteria” only perpetuate the myth that mental illness is something to be ashamed of.

By swapping these words out, we can help reduce- if not eliminate- much of the negative stigma that is still associated with mental illness.

How we can help stop the stigma of mental illness

There are numerous ways to help stop the stigma of mental illness and in light of no name-calling week- recognizing that some terms may be offensive is a good start. When we know better- we can do better.

Our language matters. The words we say and how we express ourselves can either tear someone down or build them up. Therefore, it’s crucial to encourage and empower those living with mental illness and let them know they are supported.

If you or someone you know is seeking mental health services, contact Serene Health. We offer appointments 7 days a week from our telehealth platform so you can speak to a therapist from the comfort of your own home. Call us at 844-737-3638 or visit to book an appointment.