Even with growing awareness, medical terms used to describe mental health issues are still being used inappropriately in conversations within the workplace

While more than half of UK adults (53%) believe that people are more aware of mental health conditions than they were five years ago, nearly half (49%) of UK adults are using words such as ‘schizophrenic’ and ‘autistic’ to describe themselves incorrectly according to research from Bupa.

Pablo Vandenabeele, Clinical Director for Mental Health at Bupa UK, says: “We’ve seen a positive shift in recent years where more employees feel comfortable talking about their mental health. But this doesn’t mean we should rest on our laurels; we need to be cautious about the way we use mental health language, both at home and in the workplace, and make sure it’s used appropriately.”

Bupa and Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) England are calling out for people to consider what language they use around mental health terms as this can underplay and trivialise the true meaning of these words, which could hinder the destigmatisation of mental health issues and prevent people from receiving the support they need.

Terms deemed the most offensive when used incorrectly were schizophrenic and psychotic (26%).

Norman Lamb, Liberal Democrat MP, adds: “Misusing definitions of mental ill health confuses our understanding of already-complex conditions. We should be sensitive to the negative impact caused by the derogatory or casual use of words like ‘schizophrenic’ and ‘autistic’, which can stigmatise people with those conditions. We want to support, not alienate, those with mental ill health – we shouldn’t trivialise what they’re going through.”

The research revealed that women are the most likely to misuse mental health descriptors to describe themselves (55%), men and those aged under 35 were most likely to use the same phrases in a judgmental sense.

There needs to be a shift in behaviour within the workforce as it is estimated that 3 in 5 employees (60%) have experienced mental health issues in the past year because of work. While the value added by people in the UK working with mental health problems is estimated to be £226 billion per year.

Poppy Jaman, CEO, Mental Health First Aid England, says: “We can never underestimate the subtle but integral role language has to play in creating the cultures and communities in which we live and work, be that diversity, gender, or mental health. Part and parcel of every Mental Health First Aid course is a discussion around how everyday language can contribute to the stigma of mental ill health and by doing so we shine a spotlight on our individual responsibility to choose appropriate words and phrases. We do this to support discussion of mental health and mental illness in a way that encourages open conversations – conversations that may ultimately aid early intervention and quicker recoveries.”

Below are some of the words that people find offensive when used outside of the mental health context:

Respondents were asked which phrases or words they found most offensive when used outside of the correct mental health context.

1. Schizophrenic/schizo (26%)

2. Psychotic (26%)

3. Special needs (19%)

4. Autistic (16%)

5. Bi-polar (10%)