We need to talk about mental health (and think before we speak) by Gavin Cooper

Mental illness has been subject to stigmatisation for centuries, so it’s perhaps no surprise that society has historically associated it with a discriminatory and often derogatory lexicon. We’ve come a long way in recent years, with terms such as ‘looney’, ‘schizo’ and ‘crazy’ now deemed inappropriate. But, we still have a long way to go. The fact is that terminology related to mental illnesses continues to permeate our language more than any other area of ill-health.

How many times have we heard people say, ‘I’m depressed’ or ‘it’s so depressing’? I’m guilty of doing this myself, especially as a lifelong Derby County supporter. The word ‘depression’ is used so often in the incorrect context that when somebody who is experiencing a depressive illness tries to talk about it, they are often misunderstood as simply going through a difficult time. Clinical depression is not a passing or fleeting feeling, it is a persistent and debilitating illness that can create a sense of complete hopelessness and an inability to take pleasure in anything.

Of course things like the pandemic and the cost of living crisis will impact on a person’s emotional wellbeing. But poor emotional wellbeing and mental illness are not the same thing. If a person who is experiencing a low mood because they can’t pay their bills wins the lottery, they are likely to feel better. If someone with clinical depression wins the lottery, their mood is unlikely to improve, as they have a biological illness that effects the functioning of the brain regardless of their financial or any other external circumstances.

As a director of a mental health charity I fully support mental wellness campaigns such as ITV’s ‘Get Britain Talking’. Yes, we need to talk about mental health. But perhaps we need to take a moment to think before we speak.

Gavin Cooper


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