Mental Health will be Taken, not Given

It starts with our language

Emma Barnes


Begging for liberation never worked. We mustn’t ask. We have to tell. We do that by choosing our language.

When we say, “i’m living with a mental illness” we’re begging for pity. We evoke the basement of the mental hospital; a saline drip trolley and unsound mind — only the psychiatrist can set us free.

Language paints a picture

But we don’t need their signature. We can walk out of the asylum’s front door. We have the keys.

Neurodiversity is a language. Just like “biodiversity”, the word itself points to our variety. It opens the door to the natural world. If we say “I’m mentally ill”, people ask if we’ve taken our meds and usher us back inside. When we say, “I’m neurodivergent” instead, they step out with us into public life.

Fresh air and sunshine turns out to be good for our mental health

We can make replacements like these in our everyday language to bring people along. Try this one: “Language difference” or “language disorder”? Disorder makes us a problem, a burden. But difference makes us unique, valuable, and fit for public life.

Choosing language like this takes some testing. Try these out:

Instead of, “living with”, try “experiencing”, as in; they experience psychosis

Instead of, “disturbed”, try “distressed”, as in, he appeared distressed

Instead of, “mental illness”, try “neurodivergence”, as in, they are wildly neurodivergent

Instead of, “other sufferers” try “neurokin”, as in, I love spending time with neurokin

Instead of, “deficit”, try “different”, as in, Her attention works differently

Instead of, “disorder”, try “disablement”, as in what disabled them?

If you wonder about the power of these small transformations, sense into your body as you read the traditional versions:

“They are living with psychosis”

“He appeared disturbed”

“They are severely mentally ill”

“spending time with other sufferers”

“She has attention deficit”

“What caused their disorder?”

The system that built the old framework locks us up. It lobotimised us. It sterilized and even genocided us. We all know that we deserve a new deal. It’s time. The new deal starts with new concepts. But the old concepts still live in the language we use to describe ourselves. We can change that by changing our language.



Emma Barnes

Autistic, trans, survivor, abolitionist @friedkrill on Twitstagram