How choosing the right words can promote mental wellness

Picture: Taryn Elliott/Pexels

Picture: Taryn Elliott/Pexels

Published May 8, 2023


When we think of mental disorders, the first things that come to mind are probably anxiety, depression, and bipolar disorder, but, many other conditions can impact mental health, including eating disorders and addictions.

Using certain phrases or language in our daily speech can trigger those who struggle with mental health issues.

One such phrase that has become common is “binge-watching” or “binge-worthy” shows.

During an interview with “IOL Lifestyle”, Senzekile Shongwe, senior counsellor at Panda and a mental health facilitator, discussed how to consider our everyday language use that may trigger individuals with mental health disorders.

“The term 'binge' indicates an indulgent or excessive behaviour in popular culture. When applied to watching TV shows, a phrase like 'binge-worthy' seems to suggest that watching multiple episodes in one sitting is something to be celebrated and admired.

Picture: Edward Eyer/Pexels

“However, for those with eating disorders or addictions, the word highlights a dangerous behaviour with serious consequences,” said Shongwe.

Although, watching several episodes of your favourite show in one sitting may seem harmless, people with binge eating disorders or addiction to drugs or alcohol may find the phrase “binge” triggering.

“If you or someone you know has struggled with these issues, hearing the word can bring back negative associations and encourage harmful behaviour.

“The term bingeing says I am overly consuming something in an unhealthy way. And people that are experiencing eating disorders might look at it as though the struggle is not taken seriously or feel a lack of support or even triggered as such we need to be mindful of how we utilise that word,” explained Shongwe.

Instead of using the term 'binge-watching,' you might consider opting for phrases like “marathon”, “watch-a-thon”, or “catch-up session”.

Such phrases take away the indulgent or excessive negative connotations of the term “binge” while still allowing one to convey the concept of enjoying multiple episodes in one sitting, explained the mental health expert.

Language has a powerful impact on how we perceive and understand the world around us. Therefore, it is vital to be mindful of our words and phrases, especially regarding mental health issues.

She adds, “We must be careful not to use language that triggers or stigmatises those struggling with mental disorders. Binge eating disorder is a serious mental health condition that can manifest in different ways.

“It is characterised by recurrent episodes of eating large amounts of food very quickly and feeling out of control during those binge eating episodes. People suffering from this disorder may also experience feelings of shame or guilt afterwards.”

There are various reasons why people binge eat. It may be an attempt to cope with negative emotions. Some people may not like the way they look and wish to be thinner, but are unable to control the way they eat. Instead, they may engage in maladaptive patterns such as starving themselves all day and then eating a large amount of food in the evening.

Picture: Anna Guerrero/Pexels

“When we use the term ‘binge’ to describe eating behaviours, we reinforce the idea that these behaviours are abnormal, shameful, and out of control. This can be particularly damaging, as it can reinforce negative thought patterns and behaviours.

“To address this issue, it is important to be mindful of the language we use when talking about binge eating disorders. Instead of using the term ‘binge’, we can use more neutral and less stigmatising language, such as ‘overeating’ or ‘eating in excess’.

“We can also avoid using language that reinforces negative stereotypes about people with eating disorders, such as ‘out of control’ or ‘lazy’.

“The words we use matter. They can have a powerful impact on how we perceive ourselves and others. This is especially true when it comes to mental health disorders, where language can be a powerful tool for either supporting or stigmatising those who are struggling.

“It is also important for media outlets, such as Netflix, to be mindful of the language they use when promoting their content. Instead, media outlets can use more neutral language to describe their content, such as ‘highly entertaining’ or ‘must-see',” explained Shongwe.

The language we use matters, especially when it comes to mental health disorders like binge eating disorder.

By being mindful of the language we use and avoiding stigmatising and triggering language, we can create a more supportive and understanding environment for those who are struggling.

It is up to all of us to be mindful of the impact our words can have and to use language that supports, rather than stigmatises, those who are struggling with mental health disorders.