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May is Mental Health awareness month: A good time to examine the way we talk about mental illness.

Many of us know someone – friend or family - who struggles with a brain disorder, mental-health challenge, emotional illness or a brain disability.

Rational terms like these don’t fuel the flames of the stigma that still surrounds mental illness, often keeping people from getting the help they need.

Even well-educated folks use stigmatizing language for dramatic effect. Recently, a TV talk show panelist called a mentally ill person “cuckoo,” Dr. Oz described a falsehood as “crazy” and Dr. Phil asked a guest with less than reasonable behavior if she was “insane.”

Maybe they do so without thinking, for ratings, or, like us, to add emotional punch to our statements.

As we become more aware of language, we fuel a growing compassion for the challenges of mental illness.

Let’s help each other to notice and discard references that are insulting.

Whether intentional or not, language can objectify people and their challenges. As we replace stigmatizing vocabulary and attitudes with compassion and respect, more people will seek a trained professional, be diagnosed early and provided treatment.

More of our loved ones will find the support they need to face mental illness with courage and dignity.

Vicki Lopez-Kaley, La Crosse

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