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Don't Call Me Crazy: Using Respectful Language in Mental Health

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Mary Seymour

on 17 September 2014

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Transcript of Don't Call Me Crazy: Using Respectful Language in Mental Health

Using Respectful Language in
Mental Health

Don't Call Me
~ SAMSHA, The 10 Fundamental Components of Recovery
Community, systems, and societal acceptance and appreciation of consumers—including protecting their rights and eliminating discrimination and stigma—are crucial in achieving recovery. Self-acceptance and regaining belief in one's self are particularly vital.

ensures the inclusion and full participation of consumers in all aspects of their lives.
When describing your clients according to their
symptoms and diagnoses, what terms do you use?
What is your definition of respectful language?
What happens when you need to describe a client to another provider as quickly as possible?
Does your language change depending on the context?
What does
language mean?
Person-first language

names the person first and the condition second; for example, a "person with a disability" rather than a "disabled person." It's about making the disability a secondary attribute, not a primary characteristic.
The term "person-first language" originally appeared in 1988 as recommended by US advocacy groups.
What are some examples of referring to people as their disease?
nut job
crazy as a loon
basket case
What are some
derogatory terms
describing people with

drama queen
He's a schizophrenic.
She is anorexic.
He's bipolar.
She is borderline.
Dances with Words
mental illness
mental health diagnosis
mental wellness
mental disorder
mental health challenge
mental health journey
psychiatic disability
in a verb?
battling with...
suffering from...
struggling with...
Recovery-based language is the use of words that
promote recovery and hope
put the person first and her or his diagnosis or circumstances last
recognize the individual's inherent strengths
help people identify their challenges, needs, and barriers as a part of their experience rather than labeling them as weaknesses, problems, or deficits that imply that they are broken or their experience is "abnormal"
A former client committed suicide.
What's wrong with this sentence?
In the Middle Ages, suicide was a crime according to the laws and religions of the time.
People who died by suicide were forbidden traditional funerals and burials.
Civil authorities punished the deceased's survivors by taking away their property.
is a word used to describe a
criminal offense.
What's wrong with this sentence?
She made an unsuccessful suicide attempt.
A "failed" or "unsuccessful" suicide attempt suggests that the person who attempted it is a failure.
They have the
power to teach
, the
power to wound
, the
power to shape

the way people
, and
toward others. When a stigmatized group of people, such as those with mental illnesses, is struggling for increased understanding and acceptance, attention to the language used in talking and writing about them is particularly important.

O. F. Wahl, "People First Language Matters," 1998
Words have power.
How can we promote
best practices
in language use?
name the individual illness rather than label the person (person-first language)
avoid generic stereotypes (i.e., not "the" mentally ill; there are many mental illnesses)
recognize that people with disabilities have many differences: what they most often have in common is the prejudice they face
involve consumers in the mental health profession (i.e., use their voice in writing grants, editing articles, participating in advisory boards)
model respectful language
the time, with
The Temple University Collaborative on Community Inclusion of Individuals with Psychiatric Disabilities
Why did you choose the term that you use?
What do you like and/or dislike about it?
How do you refer in general to the
to whom you provide
Change your language and you change your thoughts.
~ Karl Albrecht
More appropriate wording would be "nonfatal suicide attempt" or "suicide attempt."
In fact, that person now has a
new chance
to find
Language in the mental health field is changing because...
people in the mental health profession are reacting to past prejudices
consumers who have experienced the historical language of mental health are publicly self-identifying and responding to how that language has affected them
consumers and mental health professionals are partnering and setting mutual goals of accomplishing language change
mental health systems are moving from huge, institution-sized facilities to small, community-based programs
Language: The Importance of Language in Promoting Community Inclusion, The Temple University Collaborative on Community Inclusions of Individuals with Psychiatric Disabilities
Steven Pinker, evolutionary psychologist at Harvard, coined the term
We invent new words for

sensitive subjects
, but soon the euphemism becomes tainted by association
water closet
The euphemism treadmill runs as long as people have
negative attitudes

toward that
Steven Pinker, The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature, 2002
"euphemism treadmill"
Stigmatizing Words Associated with
Preferred Terms

in active addiction


a substance use disorder

experiencing an alcohol/drug problem
person who

uses alcohol/drugs
What's wrong with this terminology?
The results of Suki's drug test showed she was clean.
"Clean" and "dirty" drug test results associate illness symptoms with filth.
Calling addictive disorders a habit denies their medical nature and implies that the person simply lacks the willpower to stop the behavior.
substance use disorder
alcohol and drug disorder
alcohol and drug disease
active addiction
a stigmatizing term?
Is there a
It's time to take a test.
Wait. Let's reframe that. It's time to play with your new knowledge.
How could you transform each statement?
1) Isiah is psychotic.
2) Gretchen is mentally ill and an alcoholic.
3) Maya presents as normal but may be a cutter.
4) My patient, Jose, is chemically abusing.
What's the
with this sentence?
One of my new referrals has a drug habit.
Created by Mary Seymour, MS, LPCA, NCC, CPSS
Copyright 2012
Mental Health Association in Greensboro
330 S. Greene Street, Suite B-12
Greensboro, NC 27408
336.373.1402 | www.mhag.org
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