Words matter. I preach that all the time. Language is what gives our thoughts reality and how we make essential connections. Ideas become more concrete when they have words attached to them. It’s hard — perhaps impossible — to convey a thought without language of some kind. And how we use words is dependent on how and what we think.
Words matter. Think about how the terms “rioters” and “protesters” reveal a person’s opinions about the motivations of the people in the “mob” or “crowd.”
Words matter. Our community has been pushing back against words such as “psycho” and “crazy” when it comes to referring to people who need psychiatric help. Many people are gradually realizing that such words are equivalent to slurs and are no longer acceptable. (Except in the aftermath of violence, of course. Then, those terms are tossed around indiscriminately.)
Words matter. But how do we in the community refer to ourselves? What words are advocates using? And how do we want the general public to refer to psychiatric problems?
I’ve written before about the terms “behavioral health” (bad) and “mental illness” (better). But what’s best? Increasingly, the words du jour are “brain illness” and “brain disease.” We’re watching linguistic change in action.
But linguistic change happens at a glacial pace. Words that were used in Elizabethan England are still used today. Think about all the words and phrases that Shakespeare invented that are still used today, and with the same meanings — unreal, lonely, and green-eyed (as in jealousy), for example.
Linguistic change, on the other hand, also happens blindingly fast. Slang, tech terms, and jargon in particular appear and disappear in the blink of an eye (as it were). Think about the terms that refer to female beauty. There were times when “phat,” “fresh,” and “fly” were all applied to women. (Yes, I’m dating myself. I don’t even know what the current term is, but I bet it’ll be gone next month. At least I know that “fire” has replaced “awesome,” “boss,” and “da bomb.”)
So, where are we in the (something) community now that we’ve left “behavioral health” behind? “Mental health” was the clear frontrunner for a time. Then it was “mental illness,” then “serious mental illness.” Now the term being put…