Words and Wellbeing: An Entry-Level Guide to Mental Health Lingo
I remember the first time I was exposed to mental health language on the internet. In the throes of an OCD nightmare, I had Googled “what does it mean if I’m having scary negative thoughts, but I don’t want to have them and they aren’t what I really want?” Lo and behold, there was a word to describe what I was feeling – intrusive thoughts. A few hours later, I was wading in the deep end of a whirlpool of mentthrowsal health lingo that I had never seen before, and as relieved and hopeful as I felt, it also seemed like I’d need a dictionary to decipher exactly what was going on.
Knowledge is power, as they say, but diving head-first into a new school of thought can be confronting and intimidating to say the least. If this is the first time in your life that you’ve had to really examine the state of your mental health, some of the jargon being thrown around by your friends, your healthcare professionals, or even us here at eFriend might be completely foreign to you. I will admit, up until around a year ago when I started working as a Peer Support Worker, I had no idea that this role even existed, let alone what it entailed.
To try and make your foray into the world of mental health support a little easier, here is a plain English rundown of the important terms you might come across in your time with eFriend:
- Lived experience
Lived experience refers to an individual’s actual personal experience of mental health. If someone has lived experience, they may be living with a mental health condition, have been suicidal in the past, or have experienced an adverse life event that took a toll on their mental health. While not all people have a mental health condition, we all have mental health, so anyone and everyone has lived experience!
- Peer support
In the context of mental health, peer support refers to the relationship that is established between someone who has lived experience of a particular mental health challenge, and an individual who is currently experiencing something similar. By harnessing their stories of struggle and recovery, peer supporters can listen to and validate the experiences of those who are facing difficulties right now, providing a listening ear and a beacon of hope to reassure others that the path to wellness is possible.
- Safety plan
When we discuss safety, often this conjures images of a secure home and physical protection against threats. However, mental safety is equally as important, but often remains unrecognised. Mental safety refers to an individual’s ability to cope with the mental health challenges they are facing, and their ability to keep themselves safe from risks such as self-harm, substance abuse, or suicide. A safety plan is a set of strategies and tools that someone puts in place in the case of a mental health emergency, usually when they become suicidal. This may include important people to reach out to in a crisis, distraction and relaxation techniques, and ways to minimise or deactivate the threat of suicide. This plan is created pre-emptively to ensure that when someone starts to feel unsafe, they can employ the tools they have prepared immediately.
There is every likelihood that you’ve heard of self-care, but it is not all about bubble baths and soothing cups of tea. Self-care is any activity or strategy you use to re-energise, decompress, or process difficult emotions. This can include tangible strategies, like exercising, reading, or spending time with loved ones, as well as more personal and introspective activities such as journaling, carving out some time alone, or engaging in self-praise by identifying some of your positive qualities.
- Mental health services
When I think of mental health services, psychologists and psychiatrists generally come to mind. In reality, a mental health service is any system, institution, group or individual that is dedicated to supporting individuals to meet their mental health needs. While this undoubtedly includes clinicians like psychologists, it also extends to include peer workers, support groups, meet-ups, community centres, hotlines, and online forums.
If the prospect of having an eFriend call still feels daunting, you are more than welcome to pick up the phone and call us on (02) 8090 3230 so we can answer your questions. No matter what you’re struggling with or what your experience with mental health has been in the past, at the end of the day, we are just two people connecting for a cuppa and a chat. It doesn’t matter what words you use – we hear you.