The Problem with Language Policing

Being effective in challenging mental illness stigma

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Image by MonikaP from Pixabay

The issue of resistance

It turns out, surprisingly or not, that if you come across as nagging, the message doesn’t get internalized in a constructive way. In fact, it can lead to psychological resistance; the more you tell someone not to do something, the more likely they are to do the opposite.

Is it the words or the attitudes?

What’s really missing with a focus on words is the deep, persistent attitudes that underlie those words. It’s hard to suppress language, but even when it can be suppressed in controlled settings, that doesn’t necessarily extrapolate to changes in beliefs. Corrigan cautions that:

Alienating the choir

There’s also the risk of alienating people who might otherwise support anti-stigma efforts by shutting down conversation rather than promoting it. Sometimes zealous anti-stigma campaigners start venturing into the territory of telling other people with mental illness what to say, but that’s not the target audience whose attitudes we actually want to change.

So what can we do?

Just because word policing doesn’t work very well doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be active in speaking up against stigma. But perhaps rather than focusing on words, we would accomplish more by addressing attitudes.

Written by

Mental health blogger | MH Nurse | Living with depression | Author of 3 books, latest is Managing the Depression Puzzle |

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