The language used within the category of ‘mental health’ is ever-changing. Some words are used in a negative light, others not. But when we talk about mental health, we are mostly addressing the negatives of mental health. We refer to conditions such as depression or bipolar as ‘problems’. Some people refer to these as ‘conditions’, simply as ‘ill-mental health’, ‘issues’, ‘mental unwellness’, ‘mental illness’ and a lot more. Some people have their preferred term – mine being ‘mental health problems’, but I intercalate this with ‘ill mental health’ sometimes. Personally, I find the other words stigmatizing to more or less some degree.
‘Conditions’ is perhaps the formalisation of mental health. A medicalised term, that I can accept when used in a health context. It also acknowledges the fact that our mental health can change.
I despise the word ‘issues’, as I find it has a negative connotation, as do all of them, but for me ‘issues’ is too focused on the behaviour of an individual and I feel that it suggests that the person is ‘abnormal’.
‘Unwellness’ is a little better, it does suggest that the person is unwell and I think that it links well to physical health, a tick from me there then! But it isn’t a one I’ve heard being used frequently, showing that stigma is still there, unfortunately.
‘Illness’ is a term that annoys me, while it implies that mental health can be cured (a rather medicalised view!), it has negative connotations attached to it.
‘Problems’ is not medicalised in my opinion. It suggests that there is a solution to the ‘problem’. It is not implicit in its view that a solution is certain, but it shows that it can be maintained. All problems have a solution, but the problem may not always be fully resolved.
All in all, although every word relating to the negatives of mental health is exactly negative, the words used vary in their degree of nastiness. There are some words that do present mental health problems in a good way however – words associated with this are ‘recovery’, ‘journey’, ‘road to health’. It isn’t all bad!
Which term do you prefer?