Tag Archives: clinicians

Language and Mental Health

“Commit suicide,” “successful suicide,” “the mentally ill,” “suffering from a mental illness” —These phrases rattle off the tongue, yet we, as social justice advocates, find they rattle our souls as people continue to use them in well-meaning workplace education programs and community discussions. Let us explain…

In 1984, George Orwell said, “If thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought.” The above phrases are commonly used inside and outside the mental health sector and, because of this common usage, they are accepted. We suggest that they corrupt the thinking of those who speak them and those who hear them. We would like to change this.

What if being more mindful of our language could release new ways of thinking that eventually open up new opportunities for creative ideas, thoughtful approaches and ultimately true social inclusion? What if we make a conscious effort to find words that more accurately reflect the experience of mental health conditions and suicide — would we be better able to have empathy, support and inclusion in our workplaces and communities through the use of more skillful language? We argue: Yes.

Neurolinguistics tells us the words we use as we speak inform the way our brains store and process information about whatever it is we are talking about. Words carry current meanings and history of meaning. Many words are associated with inaccurate and unfair messages that serve to perpetuate misunderstanding and prejudice. The labels applied by clinicians to people who have mental health challenges create assumptions, expectations and interpretations that can set misperceived limits on how much growth and performance is possible, while also creating the means for social exclusion. We believe this process is often unconscious and has an insidious effect on our collective thoughts and feelings, especially regarding marginalized groups, such as people who live with suicidal experiences and mental health conditions.

See Also: Breaking the Silence on Mental Health

We are hard-wired to remember problems, especially when we perceive these problems to be dangerous. So, using language that is negative, connotes difference and insinuates a threat tends to be very “sticky.” To undo this, we need to spend extra effort to build a vocabulary that is life-affirming, dignified and inclusive. Paying attention to our language as we talk about mental health and suicide, while constantly working toward improving our language, will help create a workplace culture of compassion, vitality and engagement.

Stigma reduction campaigns and workplace mental health trainings that do not pay careful attention to language are limiting their impact and may be the reason why, even after many years, we are not much further ahead in terms of reducing stigma in the workplace.

Language is the most powerful tool in understanding each other. In any social movement, language must be addressed. How we speak about people informs us about them, so when we speak unconsciously, without attention to bias and misperception, we are perpetuating social prejudice and damage. By changing our language, we alter our perceptions and attitudes; this is social justice.

In a sequel to this blogpost, we will explore the history, impact and alternatives of specific words that are often used when talking about suicide and mental health.

It's Not Cost, Stupid – It's Care Transparency!

In my article last month — Care Transparency: What Employers Are Missing! — I wrote about how employers are missing an understanding of how employees are making health care decisions, and how that crucial factor impacts health care costs.

Employers need to meet employees where they are — online. Employers need to provide them with tools that can help their research and decision-making process with robust, accurate, unbiased and evidence-based information. Employers can significantly improve the quality of care consumed by their employees and reduce health care costs by focusing on creating care transparency.

In this article, we have explained the types of tools that will be effective in supporting employee decisions and that employees will really use in making care and treatment decisions. WiserTogether's research of patient decisions across the top 200 health conditions shows that of the 22 unique factors that patients typically use in evaluating treatments, quality of care tops the list. Cost does not even make the top five. In other words, cost is not the primary decision driver for patients, and consumers do not seek out cost tools when they begin making decisions. This explains the low utilization that organizations see when they offer cost transparency tools as a stand-alone service.

Health Affairs1 recently published an article that found that patients object both to discussing health care costs with clinicians and to considering costs in deciding among comparable clinical options. It is also well-known that despite the payer's best efforts, patients do not factor in payer and employer cost burdens when making health and care decisions, despite the fact that payers cover a majority of the costs. Economists have a term for this phenomenon that patients exhibit, called the “Tragedy of the Commons.” This concept means individual decision making is driven by personal benefit and ignores the implications of those decisions on third parties and the common good.2

Studies show that patients faced with a treatment decision can only process a limited number of factors. In its 2012 research that showed quality of care is the most important factor patients consider when making health care decisions, WiserTogether found that only seven of the 22 factors carry enough weight to qualify as first-tier factors for patients. Those seven factors are explained below.

Importantly, patients also indicated differences in how open they were to information about a factor coming as an expert opinion versus information coming in the form of experiences of other patients.

WiserTogether found that for the following four factors, patients want accurate information about the experiences of other patients. For each treatment, patients wanted to know the following:

  • Treatment Effectiveness — How effective did other patients say the treatment was for them?
  • Treatment Popularity — What percentage of patients in a situation like mine use the treatment?
  • Treatment Speed — How fast did other patients start to see a difference, and how long was the recovery?
  • Treatment Side Effects — What side effects have other patients experienced, and how severe were they?

For the remaining three factors, patients wanted expert opinion:

  • Scientific Evidence — Which treatments are best supported by medical evidence?
  • Consequences of Delay — What might happen if I wait to have the treatment or decide not to have it?
  • Treatment Duration — How long will the treatment last?

The results seen were independent of whether the information was available. Patients ranked out-of-pocket costs as a second-tier factor they are willing to consider when making a health care decision. Patients also report that finding information about any of the seven top-tier factors is extremely hard, and the current tools/support systems provided are inadequate.

Research has shown that patients seek out such information prior to making a health care decision, and the information gathered influences their commitment to follow through on a treatment.

Employees repeatedly state that they are overwhelmed with health information and need help finding content that is relevant to their situation. Tools that help them understand their options, evaluate those options based on personal preferences and constraints, and succinctly communicate their questions and concerns to their providers can supply the missing link. Treatment selection and shared decision support tools — whether used by the patients directly or in consultation with a provider — help support patient decisions and effective interactions with providers.

Effective and engaging tools need to offer the following:

  • Personalized treatment selection based on the patient's demographics, co-morbidities, personal preferences, and financial constraints.
  • Need to provide (at least) the seven top-tier decision-making factors to assist employees' evaluation of options along with cost and plan coverage.
  • Be easily accessible online anywhere, including at point of care set-ups.

Employees are adopting these tools at very high rates, as these tools are aligned with the natural behavioral process people follow in making health care decisions. Such tools are helping employees become informed health care consumers who understand choices and are able to make wiser choices based on their values. These tools also are helping to reduce the knowledge gap between the providers and patients and to create more confident health care consumers who can start engaging with providers in making shared and effective health care decisions.

Having said that, WiserTogether's Patient-Centered Care Index (PCCI) shows that the provider community is a long way from treating patients as an equal partner. In my next article, I will write about specific areas where providers are underperforming in delivering patient-centered care and how they often treat themselves differently than they treat their patients.

Authors
This article is co-authored with Gregg Rosenberg, Ph.D., Chief Product Officer at WiserTogether, Inc. and author of A Place for Consciousness (Oxford University Press).

1 “Focus Groups Highlight That Many Patients Object To Clinicians' Focusing On Costs,” Sommers, Goold, McGlynn et al.; Health Affairs, 32, no.2 (2013): Pgs 338-346.

2 “The Tragedy of the Commons Revisited,” Rafid Fadul; New England Journal of Medicine, no. 10 (2009): Pg 361.