How we discuss mental health is just as important to dismantling the associated stigma and doing the work to be inclusive. At Matterlab, we prioritize operating as a people-first business, and this goes for our partners and our team.
As the world around us has changed, people have too, meaning our workplaces also need to be places where we can feel safe, seen, and heard. This is why talking about mental health is so crucial. Bringing more care, attention, and awareness to how we talk about mental health means we are paying attention to who we are as unique individuals, and how our internal experiences impact how we show up in the workplace and the world at-large.
This means that the stakes of being curious and purposeful about what we say and what we imply, both intentionally and unintentionally, are even greater. If we are to truly prioritize the health and well-being of all people, how we communicate about mental health matters. When we are intentional in communicating by recognizing the unique experience around us, we have the opportunity to build community and connection with others.
Words Have Incredible Power
We’ve all made mistakes in communication. Sometimes the words we use to describe moments of distress and frustration are also heavily packed with other important meanings. For example, I’ve been in many conversations when phrases like “I’m so OCD” or “This weather is schizophrenic” have been said casually, without the awareness that these diagnoses are real and often misunderstood. Phrases like these have become common hyperbole in our everyday language — and the implications of that are great.
I’ve personally felt incredibly attuned to this language as someone who has loved ones living with mental illness. It’s made me think even more about who might be harmed or triggered by the things we say without realizing it. In reflecting on this, I’ve been reminded that part of truly committing to a world that’s inclusive and equitable, is to be mindful of the power in our words. When we use phrases like “bi-polar,” “OCD,” “schizophrenic,” and others, casually, we are not acknowledging the implications and experiences of those who may be medically experiencing some of these descriptors.
When communicating internally with team members and externally with partners, it’s crucial to be aware of the immense power language holds. Here are a few ways I’ve built this intentionality within myself and my work day-to-day:
Seek New Information
When taking an editing course in graduate school, one of my professors shared a resource he’s used as an editor for The Boston Globe. The Diversity Style Guide, originally a project out of the Center for Integration and Improvement of Journalism, based at the Journalism Department at San Francisco State University, is a resource that serves to provide an intersectional look at language. This style guide has been developed with a myriad of collaborators from the National Center on Disability and Journalism to Race Forward’s Race Reporting Guide and more. The amazing thing about this resource is that it exists from a meshing of a variety of voices and experiences.
It reminds me of how our language is directly intertwined with how we exist in the world. The style guide is a reminder of the importance of being human-centered in our language, and how in doing so we are making a crucial step in truly putting our desire to be inclusive into action. In being human-centered or people-first, we are also being aware of the ways in which language can both build community and isolate others.
When we explore the intentions, varied meanings, and implications of language, we are holding ourselves accountable to inclusivity and community-building. We are confronting our own capacity for harm and dismantling our own unconscious biases. When we operate from a place of transparency, we can also open ourselves up to find ways to gain more information. Resources like The Diversity Style Guide are helpful in dissecting the ways we use language. Part of seeking new information is also engaging in a process of self-reflection. How can we reflect and meditate on the ways we think about ability and “disability” in our language? Anchoring ourselves in a space of gathering new information, absorbing, and reflecting on what we’ve learned grants us the opportunity to lead with a sense of curiosity rather than defensiveness.
We all live in and come from very unique experiences. The knowledge we carry inside isn’t the same knowledge someone else carries and vice versa. When we admit that we don’t know everything, we are acknowledging that although we have our own experiences, that there’s value in learning from others outside of ourselves. Being transparent about our own limiting beliefs and understandings, can only put us in a position to be open to more information that will expand our own perspectives. And understanding others’ perspectives is at the core of being an empathetic person.
In fostering a sense of curiosity and transparency, we can also cultivate community. When we open up and admit that there’s more we need to learn, we can invite others into the conversation. Rather than expecting others to teach us, we can be honest and genuine about where we need to learn to be intentional with how we use language, especially in relation to ability, mental illness, and disability.
When we think of our work as changemakers and champions of equity, we must often start with ourselves. How can we integrate this intentionality into making space for others in our communications, organizations, businesses, and communities? Building our own internal awareness is a great first step. Listening and holding ourselves accountable is another. Seeking out understanding and continuing to learn in the midst of all these things is crucial.
In addition to building equity and cultivating cultural diversity, we can also champion the often “invisible” identities that aren’t as openly shared. They exist even when we aren’t aware of them. They are part of the unique lives of the individuals around us. When we commit to be inclusive in our language, we’re allowing others to be invited in. We’re inviting them in their wholeness, exactly as they are. We’re actively putting our desire to be inclusive into action.
Want to talk more about building intentional communications?