END stereotyping & discrimination

How words matter

05-18-16 wordsWhile behavioral health conditions, including mental and substance use disorders, are a major public health issue, did you know that language and the meanings attached to words often impact, influence, develop and change the attitudes towards these disorders?

Your word choices help illuminate and create greater understanding of these mental or substance use disorders and, by doing so, make it more likely people in need will seek help. Conversely, your choice of words can perpetuate stereotyping and discrimination.


Suicide is a public health issue. Media and online coverage of suicide should be informed by using best practices. Some suicide deaths may be newsworthy. However, the way media cover suicide can influence behavior negatively by contributing to contagion or positively by encouraging help-seeking. References and additional information can be found at ReportingOnSuicide.org. Download the recommendations infographic »

Source: American Suicide Prevention Foundation for Journalists reporting on suicide: http://afsp.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/recommendations.pdf, accessed December 19, 2017


Moving towards person-first language

The use of “person-first” language – words that describe a person as having a condition and not as the condition itself (e.g., a person with schizophrenia vs. a schizophrenic, people with a mental illness vs. the mentally ill) – helps humanize the issue by placing the focus on the person living with a health condition.

On the other hand, using terms like “crazy” or “lunatic” can perpetuate stereotypes and the discrimination experienced by people living with behavioral health conditions. In summary, it is best to describe the individual as a person who also is living with a specific behavioral health issue. Remember, stigma hurts. Understanding is essential.

For more, download a PDF of The Carter Center’s Journalism Resource Guide on Behavioral Health »

Source: Excerpted from The Carter Center Journalism Resource Guide on Behavioral Health, 2015


Moving away from judgmental terminology

Michael Botticelli, Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, is working to standardize federal communication about addiction and get rid of negative terms. “For a long time, we’ve known that language plays a huge role in how we think about people and how people think about themselves,” he says. “Words have to change so attitudes change.”

Mr. Botticelli notes that calling addiction a “habit” is not accurate, making it sound as trivial as nail biting. Calling people “clean” when they do not take drugs implies they are dirty when they do use drugs, he says. Urine samples that show evidence of drug use are often referred to as “dirty urine.”

“I can’t think of a more telling example of judgmental terminology,” he says. “We don’t say for a diabetic whose blood sugar spikes that they have a ‘dirty blood sugar.’”

Read the full article from Partnership for Drug-Free Kids at Advocates Call for Judgment-Free Language When Speaking of Addiction »

Source: Excerpted from http://www.drugfree.org/join-together/advocates-call-judgment-free-language-speaking-addiction, accessed Feb. 12, 2016