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How Can Words Prevent Women From Receiving Mental Health Treatment?

Note: Though this article uses binary language throughout, the topic directly impacts ciswomen, transwomen, and trans people assigned female at birth (AFAB). We strive to recognize the intersectional nature of these issues.

The mental health system historically abused women by forcibly institutionalizing them for behaving in societally undesirable ways. When women spoke up, the psychiatry world labeled them with fake disorders. Though we’ve come a long way from the days of locking up women and throwing away the keys, sexism still permeates the mental health world through stigmatizing language. Ultimately, this can prevent women from seeking the necessary mental health care.

Sexist Mental Health Words

Back in the 19th century, “hysterical” wasn’t simply a word that meant overly emotional. Hysteria started as a mental health diagnosis specific to anyone with a uterus. Although the diagnosis was pretty meaningless, Dr. George Miller Beard created an incomplete 75-page list of possible symptoms of hysteria.

Similarly, the words “loony” and “lunatic” originate from lunacy, a menstruation-related form of insanity that occurred in episodes once a month. The symptoms were as broad as hysteria. Current versions of the word mean someone who’s unstable.

Given the origins of these words, it makes sense that they’re still primarily used against women. Though “crazy” started as a gender-neutral term, people began weaponizing it against women. This could be because loony and hysterical fall under the definition umbrella of crazy. Eventually, it became a thought-terminating word used to block anything a woman says.

The Impact of Language

Children use the phrase, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” While this phrase sounds nice, it’s not a reality. The words we use impact the way we think, behave, and interact with others.

As a result of sexist mental health words, many women invalidate their mental health symptoms. They may not want to admit their problems for fear of being called crazy. Likewise, therapists may feel less inclined to consider emotion-related mental health disorder symptoms of women. These people may not realize they’re using sexist prejudices and stereotypes. However, in this instance, the impact is more relevant than the intention.

Breaking the Stigma

There is no single fix to the problem of sexism in the mental health field. One way to build a more inclusive environment is to admit the problematic past of the mental health field. Accountability can go a long way to building back trust. Additionally, we can change the words we use to describe people. More precise language prevents the frequent use of stigmatizing language. Lastly, we can promote more diversity in jobs related to mental health. Interacting with a professional who understands your experiences on a more personal level will make it easier for people to reach out for help.

Words make an impact on the way we see ourselves and others. The use of sexist language can prevent women from reaching out for help when they’re coping with mental health conditions. We need to change the way we speak. We can also build a more inclusive environment to combat this issue. At The Guest House, we accept all patients regardless of their sex or gender identity. Our professionals can assess your symptoms and provide a diagnosis. Then, they’ll create a personalized treatment plan that fits your unique needs. If you want a safe place to heal, call (855) 483-7800.