• Thriveworks analyzed over 54,000 data points to identify the Top Mental Health Terms for 2021, determined by usage growth over the past five years.
  • Our findings indicate that many mental health terms are experiencing a surge in usage — overall, the use of mental health terminology has seen a 140% increase from 2016-2021.
  • The results highlight an increase in public interest toward mental health topics — specifically related to relationships, therapy, self-care, and stress — and signifies a growing acceptance of mental health discussions.
  • On the flip side, due to growing popularity, the misuse and misunderstanding of mental health terms and conditions will invariably occur, as was observed in our research.  
  • Brittany Morris, MSW and LCSW from Thriveworks in Chesapeake, VA, reminds us that influencers or self-care pages can sometimes be informative and helpful but don’t always get it right — and they certainly aren’t replacements for talking with a mental health professional. 

Thriveworks conducted an in-depth analysis of over 54,000 data points to identify the Top Mental Health Terms for 2021, determined by how each term has grown in usage over the past five years. This research assessed how 71 mental health terms were used across online, print, and broadcast sources. The results indicate that, overall, the use of mental health terminology has increased, on average, 140% over a five-year period. 

This remarkable surge in the usage of mental health terms demonstrates a positive cultural shift that’s occurring in real-time. As conversations surrounding mental health gain broader acceptance, this research offers hope that mental health topics are becoming less stigmatized and more widely accepted. According to Brittany Morris, MSW and LCSW from Thriveworks in Chesapeake, VA, “equipping people with the language to better understand why they might be feeling or reacting a certain way can reduce feelings of isolation and empower them to seek professional help.”

On the other hand, this research cautions the dangers of misinformation with the broader usage of mental health terminology. As mental health topics become more popularized, Morris reminds us that “treatment for mental health issues should be personalized based on the person’s abilities, past, and support,” and that “there is a real risk for misdiagnoses and reverting to Google or TikTok for answers on how to get better.” 

Top 10 Most Used Mental Health Terms for 2021 

Our research found that these 10 terms experienced the highest increase in usage over the last five years: 

  1. Gaslighting: The word with the largest growth in usage is “gaslighting” which made a 1020% increase in mentions from 2016. Gaslighting occurs when someone’s abuser convinces them that they’re not being mistreated, through tactics including manipulation, lying, and over-the-top displays of affection. 
  2. Love-bombing: Closely following is “love-bombing” with a 920% increase. This occurs when someone is showered with affection, acting as a primer for a cycle of love-bombing followed by abusive, controlling behavior. Strongly associated with narcissistic tendencies, love-bombing may be a small portion of a growing interest in narcissism and other “dark” personality traits.
  3. Trauma-bonding: Next is “trauma bonding”, which since 2016 experienced a 730% increase in use. Trauma-bonding often occurs in relationships and refers to emotional bonds that victims make with their abusers between moments of mistreatment and reconciliation.
  4. Self-care: At number four, with a 494% increase in usage, is self-care. Increased use and interest in self-care might be associated with the popularity of self-care on social media platforms, especially while quarantine and stay-at-home measures were in place from late 2019 to mid-2021. 
  5. Burnout: Growing 272% in overall mentions is “burnout”. This is indicative of the growing number of people who are self-identifying as experiencing burnout.  A recent study conducted by Indeed found that more than half (52%) of survey respondents were experiencing burnout in 2021 — up from the 43% who indicated burnout symptoms in Indeed’s pre-COVID survey.
  6. Body Dysmorphia: Number six is “body dysmorphia”, the psychiatric diagnosis given to individuals suffering an obsessive preoccupation with perceived physical flaws. While this term’s usage has increased 231% within five years, epidemiologic studies report a prevalence of only 0.7% to 2.4% in the general population. This discrepancy between diagnoses and discussion could potentially indicate misuse or self-diagnosis of this disorder, which is backed up by a steady increase in Google search trends of this term and its related symptoms. 
  7. Cognitive behavioral therapy: Next is “cognitive behavioral therapy” up in usage by 215% since 2016. The term’s increase in use indicates a growing recognition of therapeutic techniques in our public spheres. Cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT, is particularly popular in treating anxiety and depression, conditions that are rapidly on the rise, according to the CDC
  8. Therapist: Number eight is “therapist” which grew 205% in usage in the past five years. This might be due in part to larger acceptance and destigmatization of mental health conditions and treatment — we’re becoming more open to receiving treatment from mental health professionals. According to a 2019 poll from the APA, 87% of Americans agree that having a mental health condition is nothing to be ashamed of, and 86% believe that people with a mental health condition can get better. 
  9. Codependency: Next is “Codependency” which saw a 201% increase. This term refers to a relationship dynamic in which one or more individuals are emotionally dependent on each other to function in daily life. “Codependency” may be increasing in usage because of greater discussions related to relationships, sexual health, and couples therapy. 
  10. Stress: Rounding out the top 10 is “stress” with a 200% increase in usage in the past five years. Considering the social and political turmoil caused by COVID-19, the 2020 Presidential Election, climate change, and other extremely stressful events, “stress” is at the center of many conversations.

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