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This Project Aims to Change the Way We Look at Mental Health

Dr. Elizabeth Yuko is the Health Editor at SheKnows. She is a bioethicist and writer specializing in sexual and reproductive health and the intersection of bioethics and popular culture. She is an adjunct professor of ethics at Fordham ...

How to change the conversation about mental health

Mental illness is slowly but surely coming out of the shadows. With celebrities like Demi LovatoKristen Bell and Emma Stone opening up about their own struggles and with social media providing platforms for anyone who wants to discuss their own experience, we're gradually chipping away the stigma surrounding mental illness.

Now, a new partnership between Be Vocal: Speak Up For Mental Health and Getty Images aims to facilitate a further shift in how we view and talk about mental illness by providing photos and language tools to add to the conversation.

How to change the conversation about mental health
Image: Shaul Schwarz Verbatim/Getty Images for Be Vocal

Currently, if you do a search for images of people with mental health conditions, chances are what you'll find isn't great. The photos feature disparaging imagery with little diversity. The Be Vocal Collection is trying to change that by offering photos showcasing 10 people living with different conditions, all taken by photographer Shaul Schwarz, all of which are free to download and share on social media or for journalists to run alongside articles.

How to change the conversation about mental health
Image: Shaul Schwarz Verbatim/Getty Images for Be Vocal

MoreUsing Storytelling to End the Stigma Surrounding Mental Illness

The 10 individuals featured in the Be Vocal Collection include an orchestra conductor, a Marine Corps veteran, a three-time Olympian and a graphic designer and painter, among others.

There is also a downloadable guide to help people to use more mindful language when discussing mental health conditions. While there is no one-size-fits-all standard, this resource reflects the general consensus when it comes to describing people and their various conditions. Specifically, the goal is to use nonjudgmental "people first language" to talk about people as individuals, rather than defining them by their diagnoses.

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How to change the conversation about mental health
Image: Shaul Schwarz Verbatim/Getty Images for Be Vocal

For example, instead of saying "She is a schizophrenic," you could say, "She has schizophrenia," or "She is living with schizophrenia." Or rather than saying "He is psychotic/disturbed/crazy," you could say, "He is disoriented/hallucinating/experiencing symptoms of psychosis/experiencing psychosis." At the same time, feel free to use other descriptors about a person's many other roles in life — like being a daughter, scientist or teacher — instead of focusing solely on their mental health condition.

Through small changes, we can make a significant impact on how the world views mental health.

How to change the conversation about mental health
Image: Shaul Schwarz Verbatim/Getty Images for Be Vocal

"Sometimes, without even knowing it, the images and words we use can be hurtful or inaccurate — particularly when it comes to mental health," Lovato — who has partnered with the Be Vocal project — notes in the resource. "If we as a society make the effort to be a little more mindful about the imagery and language we use, we have the power to help change perceptions of mental health in America. While some things are common sense, there are other tips I've learned as an advocate that I want to share with others."

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