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Tips for Talking About Mental Health
Break the silence, break the cycle.
Those are the words actress Taraji P. Henson chose as the motto of The Boris Lawrence Henson Foundation (BLHF), the organization she founded to honor her late father and stimulate dialogue about mental health in the African-American community. “BLHF is breaking the silence by speaking out and encouraging others to share their challenges with mental illness and get the help they need,” she said.1
Speaking in Australia, the United Kingdom’s Prince Harry, the Duke of Sussex, shared his experience talking with a counselor about issues related to the death of his mother, Diana, Princess of Wales. “You need to know that part of being strong and tough is having the courage to seek help when you need it,” he told the audience.2
Voices like Henson’s and Prince Harry’s are helping to raise awareness about mental health and ease the stigma some people may feel about seeking help. It’s estimated that at some point in their lives, more than half of all Americans will be diagnosed with a mental illness or disorder.3 So learning how to talk about mental health in a way that breaks down barriers is an essential skill and vital topic for everyone, particularly for students enrolled in a clinical mental health counseling master’s program.
In any conversation, words set the tone. And in discussing mental health, word selection is key. The American Psychological Association offers these tips for using what it calls “nonhandicapping language”:4
- Put people ahead of disabilities. Say “a person with mental illness” rather than “a mentally ill person.”
- Don’t use labels. Use “individuals with schizophrenia,” not “schizophrenics.”
- Use emotionally neutral language. Avoid phrases like “afflicted with,” “the victim of,” or “suffering from.”
Other experts in the mental health arena offer these additional perspectives:
- A person is not his/her mental illness. “We need to talk about mental disorders the way we talk about other medical disorders,” said Dr. Tom Insel, former director of the National Institute of Mental Health and co-founder and president of Mindstrong Health. “We generally don’t let having a medical illness define a person’s identity, yet we are very cautious about revealing mental illness because it will somehow define a person’s competence or even suggest dangerousness.”5
- Be careful when linking mental illness and crime. “The tendency to connect people’s crimes to mental illness diagnoses that are not in fact associated with criminality needs to go away,” said Andrew Solomon, author of The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression.5 “‘This person murdered everyone because he was depressed.’ You think, yes, you could sort of indicate here this person was depressed and he murdered everyone, but most people who are depressed do not murder everyone.”
- Share your own experiences. “… Asking for help was one of the best decisions I ever made,” Prince Harry said. “You will be continually amazed at how life changes for the better.”2 And you don’t have to be a celebrity to make an impact. With each voice that joins the chorus, society moves closer to “breaking the silence, breaking the cycle,” and having the open, honest conversation about mental health that everyone deserves.
How Can I Join the Conversation?
Walden University offers an online MS in Clinical Mental Health Counseling degree program that can help prepare you to work for client wellness in multiple career settings. Choose the general program or select one of five specializations: Addiction Counseling, Forensic Counseling, Military Families and Culture, Marriage, Couple, and Family Counseling or Trauma and Crisis Counseling.
Master’s programs in clinical mental health counseling such as Walden’s can lead you to roles in private practice or in a community mental health center, social service agency, inpatient/outpatient facility, child and family service agency, or hospital and healthcare setting. These are just a few of the options in a field where the demand for mental health counselors is expected to grow by 22% between 2018–2028.6
Walden’s online mental health counseling degree program is accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP), a specialized accrediting body recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA), which is a requirement for licensure in many states.
And when you earn a degree online through Walden’s clinical mental health counseling master’s program, you have access to faculty members who are leaders in their field—some of whom have written the textbooks you’ll be using—and to exceptional support services, including a digital library, librarians, 24/7 technical support, a writing center, and a career center.
As a mental health professional, you can become part of the global conversation about mental health. Bring your talents and experience to the degree program that meshes with your career goals and join the rewarding work of helping clients explore and develop their potential.
Walden University offers an online MS in Clinical Mental Health Counseling program with four specializations. Expand your career options and earn your master’s degree in a convenient, flexible format that fits your busy life.
Walden University is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission, www.hlcommission.org.
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