Words Matter When It Comes to Mental Health. Please, Think Before You Speak!

Stop stigma.

Public Health Awareness Week is a perfect time to talk about mental health. You probably know the statistic that 1 in 5 Americans live with a mental health condition. But did you know that only 41% of those adults in the U.S. will receive treatment? Why so few?

Frankly, one barrier to seeking treatment is stigma. It’s the fear of being labeled, demeaned, and discarded for admitting they need help. Stigmatizing words can cause shame and embarrassment and lead to feelings of hopelessness. People in need of help may hear these descriptions and decide they don’t want to become “one of those people.”

The words we use to describe mental health, mental illness, and treatment are critical to fighting—and ending—stigma.  By simply changing the words you use, you can help someone who may feel shame about seeking help for a mental illness. The right words show respect for the experience that someone else is living.

So what can you do? Think before your speak.  Start by using person-centered language. It’s language that focuses on a person’s humanity rather than a diagnosis. Think, “person first.” Instead of saying, “he is a schizophrenic” change the phrase to “he is living with schizophrenia” or “he is a person with a diagnosis of schizophrenia.”

Here are other examples:

 She is a person who receives help/treatment for mental health or substance use problem or a psychiatric disability. She is a patient.
 He is a person with a disability. He is disabled/handicapped.
 She is a child without disabilities.  She is normal.
 He has a diagnosis of bipolar disorder or is living with bipolar disorder. He is (a) bipolar.
 She has a mental health problem or challenge.  She is mentally ill/emotionally disturbed/psycho/insane/lunatic.
 He has a brain injury. He is brain damaged.
 He experiences symptoms of psychosis. He hears voices. He is psychotic.
 She has an intellectual disability. She is mentally retarded.
 He has autism. He is autistic.
 Is receiving mental health services Mental health patient/case
Attempted suicide Unsuccessful suicide
Died by suicide Committed suicide
 A student receiving special education services Special education student
Person with substance use disorder; person experiencing alcohol/drug problem Addict, abuser, junkie
Experiencing, or being treated for, or has a diagnosis of, or a history of, mental illness Suffering with, or a victim of, a mental illness

Source: American Psychiatric Association

The AHCCCS Office of Individual and Family Affairs has more information about how you can reduce the stigma surrounding mental health. Contact OIFA at oifa@azahcccs.gov or call 602-542-7170.



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