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What’s the hidden link between mental health and language?


What’s the hidden link between mental health and language?

Missed our latest Thinking Out Loud session, or just want to recap the best bits? Here’s a rundown of what Katie Comery, our Associate Creative Director, and Nikki Allen, brand language expert and BACP-registered therapist, chatted about. Catch the recording here.

Content warning: This article and the session discuss mental health conditions like depression and anxiety, and give as examples some outdated terms that you might find hurtful. Take care of yourself.

92% of companies know they need to be doing more to support their people’s mental health. One way to do that is to pay attention to your words in the workplace. And to use language – writing in particular – to boost wellbeing while you’re at it. Here’s how…

Home in on hyperbolic language

Exaggerated language that refers to mental health conditions happens every day in conversation: ‘she went schizo’, ‘they’re a total psycho’ or ‘I’m having a nervous breakdown.’ Mental health-related terms are everywhere in our language: calling ourselves ‘OCD’ (short for obsessive compulsive disorder) if we like to keep things neat, for example. Or saying things are ‘insane’ and ‘crazy’.

Using these phrases can trivialise the experiences of someone who’s suffering with OCD (which is about a lot more than how you line up your pencils on your desk). Or add more negative stigma to mental health conditions like schizophrenia.

Want to cut flippant use of mental health terms from your vocab?

Time to spot them and swap them. Instead of saying something’s ‘insane’, how about ‘wild’, or ‘outrageous’? And ‘meticulous’ or ‘fastidious’ could be good alternatives for ‘OCD’.

Create more conversation

Mental health can influence how we talk to each other at work as well as the words we choose. That might mean starting more open and honest conversations. So if you’re a line manager, regularly ask your team, ‘How are you?’ And let them know it’s ok if the answer isn’t ‘fine’. You could also ask open questions like ‘how do you feel about X?’ or ‘what else would you like to say about Y?’.

And when you respond, be non-judgmental

That sounds obvious, but judgment can creep into our language subtly, even with the question, ‘Why?’ For example, ‘Why do you feel so down when you’ve got so much going for you?’ It might be well meaning, but it suggests there’s something wrong with feeling down.

Free yourself from false positivity

Phrases at the start of an email like ‘I hope you’re well’ or ‘hope you had a lovely weekend!’ have good intentions. But sometimes, it feels like we’re forcing positivity in our work conversations, and aren’t open to hearing about it if someone’s having a rough time.

So take look at your email etiquette

Could you switch ‘Hope you’re well’ for ‘How are you?’ Or ‘How was your weekend?’ It’s often the small things that make a big difference.

Write to boost wellbeing

There’s a mountain of evidence out there (more than 200 studies) on the positive impact that writing has on our mental health. Expressive writing – or writing in a way that releases our thoughts and feelings – can lower symptoms of stress, depression and anxiety, and boost feelings of calm and wellbeing. It even helps heal the immune system. Researchers think it works because it makes people more self-aware as they write.

You can put this into practice for you and your teams

There are simple ways to improve mental health through writing. Try daily journaling – just like keeping a teenage diary. (Although potentially with less anguish about the boy you fancy on the bus.) Or more specifically, encourage people to write about something positive for 20 minutes several days in a row: this has been shown to alleviate burnout for teachers at work.

For teams at work, you could try sending writing prompts to people over email, like a question for them to take away and reflect on – it could be something like, ‘Write about three things you did well today.’ Or think about running a more creative writing training session – think less ‘we want you to get to the point more in emails!’ and more ‘how can creative writing practices boost your overall cognition and mood?’

Mind your words

Chat to us about running creative writing sessions for your teams, support with making your wellbeing resources more inclusive, or other ways we can help make the most of that link between mind and message.

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