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‘Schizo, nutter, attention seeker, psycho, fruit loop’

People with lived experience of mental ill health discuss the devastating impact of stigmatising language



A video featuring experts by experience and clinicians from St Andrew’s Healthcare lays bare the impact of stigmatising language and how damaging it can be. 

The video features people with lived experience or mental ill-health, alongside a clinician, and each pair discuss what words and phrases they find stigmatising. 

The video was created to help give people with complex mental ill health more of a voice.

Estelle, from the St Andrew’s REDS Recovery College who is a trainer, was one of the contributors in the film.

When asked by consultant psychologist Dr Inga Stewart what sort of stigmatising language she has experienced, Estelle said: “It was said a lot to me [that I was] nuts and a maniac.”

While Phil, who was supported by the Community Partnerships Veteran Service, explained that colleagues sometimes say to him: “I think you’re going a bit mental. Have you taken your medication? They don’t mean any harm, it’s just the use of that language is not helpful in that situation.”

Darran, who has Huntington’s Disease, explained people often assume he is drunk because of his behaviour. 

Neelam, who had a brain tumour, said she finds it offensive when people says she “has no brain” or is “useless”.

Martha, a Veteran Service user and has received treatment for complex PTSD, said: “They [people] disregard it as if it’s not an existing illness because they can’t see it.”

Psychotherapist Liz Ritchie said language can “either exacerbate or diminish stigma, so it has a lot of power.”

The term ‘committed suicide’ was discussed during the video, which Dr Stewart pointed out has “negative connotations of a crime” and consultant psychologist Dr Vincent Harding pointed out that “suicide isn’t a crime and it hasn’t been a crime since 1961 in the UK, so we shouldn’t be talking about people committing suicide because it’s not an illegal act.”

Consultant psychologist Dr Kevin Beckles suggested terms that would be a better way to describe the act could include “died by suicide” or “completed suicide”.

The video was inspired by the findings of a nationwide survey commissioned by St Andrew’s Healthcare and supported by the Time to Talk Day Legacy Fund. 

The content of the survey was co-produced with experts by experience and staff and more than 1,000 people up and down the country took part.

One of the key findings was that stigma around complex mental health problems, such as psychosis, remains rife, and one in three people admit to using words such as ‘psycho’ and ‘nutter’ in everyday conversation.