There was an excellent article in the Providence Journal by G. Wayne Miller about the language we use when talking about mental illness. "'Words matter,' James McNulty, head of the Mental Health Consumer Advocates of Rhode Island and a national authority on mental health says. 'Words make a difference. They help us in how we think about ourselves and about others.'"
"McNulty favors 'people-first' phrases and words — language that acknowledges an individual’s overall humanity, not a label describing one aspect of someone’s identity."
"Susan C. Jacobsen, the Mental Health Association of Rhode Island’s executive director, places the discussion in the context of other movements.
'This is one of the last ground fights for civil rights,' Jacobsen asserts. 'Those living with mental illness have been marginalized, discriminated against, and treated as an ‘other’ or an underclass throughout history. Language is one of the ways that we dehumanize people. It’s the mechanism of oppression and dehumanization.'"
“'Honesty' and 'clarity' are words Dr. Gabor I. Keitner uses to describe his interactions with people with mental illness and their significant others. Associate Psychiatrist-in-Chief at Rhode Island and Miriam hospitals, Keitner cautions against language — however well-intentioned — that obscures the true nature of such conditions as schizophrenia and posttraumatic stress disorder.
'We should be careful not to get caught up in the process so much that we actually end up minimizing the reality of what people may be struggling with,' Keitner says. 'When somebody has an illness, they have an illness. When we try to sugarcoat the notion of mental illness, we’re almost accepting the [idea] that this is something you shouldn’t talk about because it’s a really much worse thing to have than other illness.'"
"Dr. Keitner's patients appreciate honesty and clarity, he says.
'I’m validating that I recognize that this is really a tough thing they’re coping with. And that this is painful, this is disruptive — and it is an illness. They’re not doing it on purpose. It’s not their fault. They haven’t asked for this. But maybe for them to know that somebody accepts, validates and recognizes puts us in a position of ‘All right, what can we do together to help you manage this more effectively?’”
"The American Psychiatric Association is among the groups that have published guidelines of preferred language. 'The general rule,' the Arlington, Va.-based organization states, 'is to use person-first language.'
The APA guide gives several examples of words and phrases that should replace ones with stigmatizing or incorrect connotations. Among them is a recommendation to use 'She has a mental health problem or challenge' instead of 'she is mentally ill/emotionally disturbed/psycho/insane/lunatic.' Instead of 'suffering with, or a victim of, a mental illness' the guide advises 'experiencing, or being treated for, or has a diagnosis of, or a history of, mental illness.'"
“'Why is language important? Because the way that we talk about things frames the way that we think about things,' says Jacobsen."
Why is it so important to talk about mental health now? Because it is so prevalent. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, "One in four adults-approximately 61.5 million Americans-experiences mental illness in a given year. One in 17-about 13.6 million-live with a serious mental illness such as schizophrenia, major depression or bipolar disorder."
61.5 million Americans a year require treatment for a mental illness and that's only Americans, and Americans are a minority when thinking in global terms. That is a lot of people. This is important, talk about it, talk about it, talk about it. Do your best to use correct language. Don't minimize, instead validate, use "person-first" language, but most of all talk about it. The more you do the easier it will become, trust me, I have been there.
Please follow the link below to read all of G. Wayne Miller's article: