Mental Health Stigma is really just Undiagnosed Verbal Illness

“The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit.”



Mental Health is not just for the men, women are part of the game too. We men have a hard time talking about health, and mental health can be crazy to talk about… If you need to ease in to the topic and like to laugh, which may actually help your mental health, read the piece Why does SADuary have to come right after Christmas?

You have heard about Net Worth, but what about your Net Wordth?

According to the Oxford dictionary, the English language currently has about 600,000 words. If you have an average vocabulary, you will use about 12-20,000 words. Really smart people use around 25,000 words. This means that even the Smarties out there only use about 4 % of our available Net Wordth!

I found out that 2-3 year olds should be able to speak about 300 words. Dogs can understand about 100 words and Mishka (see video) can actually speak-bark 12 words! I speak-bark on Monday mornings. Just sayin’.

What about Arnie? In his first Terminator movie, Arnold Schwarzenegger spoke only 17 sentences in the entire 107 minutes. I’ll be back.


Mental Health Speak-Bark

In the post You are Richer than You Think I asked, What comes to mind when you think of the phrase, ‘Physical Health?’ Words like Health, Fitness or Pain may present themselves.

Now, what are the first words that come to mind when you think about “Mental Health?” Be honest. Words like Crazy, Sick or maybe even Violent may be prominent.

Why do we automatically think that Mental Health is a negative term that describes a lack of health in our mind or our emotions… yet when we think of Physical Health, we more naturally describe a more complete experience?

“Mental health is not reserved for the crazy, for the ill,

for the scientist or for the Psychologist.”


When did I become my diagnosis?

Over my lifetime I have been diagnosed with a number of interesting things. The list goes something like this:

    • Colds and flu’s in a variety of shades of green
    • As a teenager I was diagnosed with a Nervous Stomach (whatever that is)
    • Chicken Pox
    • I used to have warts (the hand and foot kind… not the other kind)
    • A couple of times I have been told by my doctor that I have mild depression
    • Years ago, I was diagnosed with Adjustment Disorder as I tried to grapple with the sudden death of a close brother-in-law.
    • I have Tinnitus in both ears (trust me, the ringing is way better in stereo. Kiss it, Dr. Dre)
    • I probably have a sleep disorder, but I don’t want to hear about it. You know, the ears are ringing… that’s my excuse.

Am I the sum of my diagnoses? Am I colds-flus-mild depression-adjustment disorder-nervous stomach-warts(not that there is anything wrong with that)-tinnitus? Why can’t I just be myself with my unique strengths, my experiences and my world?

You and I are not the sum of our various labels. If I have cancer, I do not say “I am cancerous.” That would be weird… but probably true at a cellular level. If I experience depression, why is it that I become my diagnosis? “I am depressed” I am told by health care workers that some staff refer to Patients by their disease. “Hey, the Colon Cancer in room 8 needs a tune up.”

“I can talk about the pain in my neck, my toothache and even my hemorrhoids… but as soon as I mention my depression, things get quiet.”


Is this the best we can do? When did I become my diagnosis?

Just for fun, at a training event, I introduced myself as one of my diagnoses. Instead of writing my name, I wrote “I have warts.” A few people laughed. I was asked about it, so I explained that I am raising awareness about how we are not our labels or our diagnoses. There were smiles and awkward silence. Speak-bark.

Researchers (Szeto et al. 2012) have shown that just hearing that a person has a mental illness will create a stigmatized reaction. The person may display no mental health symptoms at all. Just hearing the phrase “mentally ill” causes most of us to:

  • Feel uneasy and maybe even afraid
  • Distance ourselves and avoid the person
  • Wonder about the person’s family or their genes
  • In some cases, you and I may actually take a risk and disclose our own struggles with moods, thinking or our mental life

I think mental illness is not the problem, the real problem that we are dealing with verbal illness. Stigma is undiagnosed verbal illness.

The next time you have a get together with your friends, stop and look around. Over your lifetime, two of your 10 friends will experience a mental illness. One, or maybe both of them will not get the help they need. And for one, the unlucky one, their family and friends will avoid talking about what is happening because it is awkward. Let’s hope that you are the lucky one. (Changing how we see mental illness, p. 28).


So how can you and I do our own Speak-Bark and change the stigma of mental health?

First, you and I can be honest and talk about our own emotional lives. Pick a friend and have an honest conversation. If they react, don’t stop. See my post on You are Richer than You Think. Keep talking; keep experimenting on your friends and family. Do it for science.

Second, you and I can listen to each other. We have to slow down to do that. In our culture, slow down is a four letter word. Well actually, it is two four letter words. S*&W D@$N!

Third, the WoWiWeb is a great resource to learn about mental health. I have listed a few resources to help you and I learn about mental illness.

Personal stories have a unique ability to undermine the stigma of mental illness by moving readers beyond stereotypes and misconceptions, and into the very real details of someone’s life.”

This post contains over 1000 words. Yeah, I know, I ramble. I’ll add that to my list. The interesting thing is that it only takes two words to change yourself, and to change the experience of someone suffering from a mental illness: “I’m listening.”

Technically “I’m listening” is three words… I’m is a contraction. Let’s agree on 2.5 words. It took Arnie 17 sentences. You and I can change the world in 2.5. Take that, Arnie.

Keep it real

This article is the sequel to Mental Health and my WMD: The Weapons of My Depression. My goal with these articles is that you and I will do what we can to reduce mental health stigma. I recommend that you read the WMD article first, followed by this piece. I hope that we will each do what we can to be involved in Bell Canada’s Let’s Talk campaign to end the stigma of mental health and generate some cash for Mental Health organizations.


Now is your chance to leave your own speak-bark! Below, you can leave a comment of encouragement for someone you know who living with, or supports those with, mental illness.



Changing how we see mental illness: A Report on the 5th International Stigma Conference

Nunes, J. & Simmie, S. (2002). Beyond crazy: Journeys through mental illness. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart Ltd.

Papish, A., Kassam, A., Modgill, G., Vaz, G., Zanussi, L. & Patten, S. (2013). Reducing the stigma of mental illness in undergraduate medical education: A randomized controlled trial. BMC Med Educ. 2013; 13: 141. doi:  10.1186/1472-6920-13-141

Proverbs 18:21. The New International Version.

SMSwaby. January 2015. Mental Health and my WMD: The Weapons of My Depression.

SMSwaby. January 2015. You are Richer Than You Think.

Szeto, A.C.H., Luong, D., & Dobson, K.S. (2012). Does labeling matter? An examination of attitudes and perceptions of lables for mental disorders. Social Psychiatry & Psychiatric Epidemiology; Apr2013, Vol. 48 Issue 4, p 659-671


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