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Put your person first: Using person-centered language!

Humans are wonderful and amazing, each bringing their own unique skills, thoughts, feelings, and experiences to the table every day. At our cores though, we are just that; human. What language should we use to properly give justice to the differences in each individual?

What do we mean by this? 

In the realm of mental health, there is a history of phased out jargon and buzzwords that just don’t fit anymore. A plethora of stigmatizing language has made it so prejudice is easy, and gaining a better understanding of particular illnesses or identities is becoming inaccessible. However, as the movement for better mental health care and more knowledgeable community increases, we are able to see the surfacing of more inclusive and informed jargon come to play. 


Person vs. illness centered  

Language is the first line of defense in terms of creating a destigmatizing and unprejudiced atmosphere. There is a high correlation between a persons’ self-image and identity with the words used to describe them, so we should take care to use proper language. The most basic implementation of person-centered language is knowing that people are not their illnesses. By placing the person at the center of attention, above all other aspects of their illnesses or treatments, we allow a person to maintain their sense of identity. For example, people are not schizophrenic or bipolar, they’re a person living with schizophrenia, or a person living with bipolar disorder. If you were to address or introduce someone as a schizophrenic, it’s difficult for a person to see past the fact that the person may experience psychosis or other symptoms of that illness. By referring to someone as schizophrenic, or leading with whatever illness they may be living with, it discredits the range of that person, their triumphs, passions, and other aspects of their lives. Branding someone as just their illness makes it seem like they have been taken prisoner to it. By using person-centered language we are able to know people as themselves, not their illnesses.


Words that can stunt the recovery process 

There are common buzzwords that have been used to describe a persons’ actions that simply must go. Words like crazy, psycho, insane, etc, can be a detriment to a recovery process and further stigmatizing, especially when those using the words may be directed towards a person who doesn’t experience a mental health condition. Using these terms can increase stigma as knowing and using these terms are more common than actually knowing a person living with a mental health condition. With limited knowledge and prejudice, it limits people to associating mental illnesses with just their symptoms rather than their recoveries. Words like “suffering with” can be transformed into “living with” or “experiencing” and it immediately rewrites the narrative of someone being taken over by the mental condition they may experience, to empower them and give credit to their recovery process. 


The power of recovery 

The process of recovery is different for every single person, with different tactics and pathways of receiving it. You never want to discredit the battles that people may experience when receiving treatment, or continuing their journey of recovery. Recovery itself speaks to a person’s ability to change, thus focusing on their strengths rather than their symptoms, so person-centered language takes out the possibility of putting a person’s illness before them, and giving all the credit to their incredible journey of receiving any care they may need. 


Takeaways 

As mentioned earlier, a person’s self image and identity is heavily influenced by the words used to describe them, whether that be from others or from themselves, so we must be wary of evaluating the effects of different descriptions that can influence your own, or another person’s perception of someone’s mental health condition. A person’s identity is a beautiful and powerful sentiment to what is held closest to them, and we must be wary to put that at the forefront. When in doubt, always ask the person you are referring to how they would like to be described. After all, people are experts in themselves and could confidently tell you their relationships with any mental health conditions they may experience, it is our job to honor that respectfully. 

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