Mariah Carey is hitting the headlines this week, not for her diva behaviour or music for once, but for acknowledging her mental health and that she has bipolar. Although she may not be a singer I like on many levels, however I have empathy with those that like myself that have mental health conditions, and having friends with bipolar I know the ups and downs even with medication can be horrific to deal with.
However, it is the language that I have seen used that disturbs me the most. Headlines that say she IS bipolar…would we say someone is cancer or diabetes, of course not so why do we say it with mental health? Why does this matter? The way language is used shapes how we see things, and in turn perceive the world around us as words evoke images and ideas. If I said my skirt today is blue and purple I’m sure you all will have an idea of those colours having seen them throughout your lives and interpret how it looks. By calling Mariah bipolar rather than saying she has it has a way to conjure up images of stereotypes from movies or TV shows of what this disease is like and continues the stigma as believe the stereotypical crazy mental health hospital patient. Their individuality is lost as seen as a label not a person. This negativity can effect their self esteem, hope for the future to accepting of help and negatively impacts on recovery to reaching out for help when they need it in the future.
The difference between physical and mental health in the ways we talk about them is from the past filled with scientific misunderstanding to social ignorance, which had those that have them seen as witches to possessed by evil spirits, or even as a sign of weakness or failing. The reality is that these illnesses can happen to anyone; they are biological and arise from a combination of genetic predisposition and environmental impingement. We can no more ‘be’ bipolar than we can ‘be’ cancer. We cannot ‘just get over it’ and is not ‘all just in your head’.
When we have an opportunity with social media to humanise or dehumanise others when we talk about mental or physical conditions, so please think and use your words carefully.
© Fi S. J. Brown