Talking About Mental Health: A Social Media Style Guide

It’s Bell Let’s Talk Day, and that means our social media feeds will be crowded with posts aimed at raising money for mental health initiatives in Canada. According to Bell, 4 out of 5 Canadians report being more aware of mental health issues since the campaign began. But are we more comfortable talking about them? Especially on the internet, it can be hard to know how to talk about mental illness, and even harder to gauge how your words are being received.

So we’ve put together some useful tips for talking, texting, or tweeting about mental health:

Person-First: When referring to someone with a mental illness, call them just that – a person with a mental illness. Describing a person as “schizophrenic” or “mentally ill” puts their diagnosis before their personhood.

Watch Your Words: Avoid using words like “crazy”, “psycho”,  “mental”, and “lunatic”. When you associate mental illness with these harmful stereotypes, it makes it harder for those with mental health issues to reach out for help.

Don’t Speculate: When violent acts are in the news, social media loves to jump to conclusions. If you assume someone who committed a crime was mentally ill just because what they did was horrible,  you are further stigmatizing those with mental illness.

Reader Beware: Sometimes keeping up with the news means reading things that can take a toll on our mental health. Before sharing or retweeting something that could harm someone else, consider adding a content warning (or CW) so others can steer clear if they need to. The same applies to live-tweeting your favourite TV show or movie marathon; many genres exploit symptoms of mental illness in their storytelling. Ask yourself and your peers whether the entertainment you’re enjoying is perpetuating negative stereotypes about mental illness.

Call-In: Social media is all about community, and we collectively set the standard for what’s acceptable. You may not be able to fix the whole internet, but you can influence the people within your circle. When someone uses harmful language or perpetuates negative stereotypes, don’t call-out, call-in. Explain why the words aren’t appropriate and link them to more resources that could help. Make it clear you’re trying to start conversation, not shut it down.


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