Appropriate language focuses on people’s abilities instead of their limitations. It always puts the person first before the mental illness to demonstrate his dignity and worth. We talk about a person’s illness only if necessary. Here are some guidelines to keep in mind when talking or writing about mental illness:
- Avoid using adjectives that label people as "schizophrenics" or "a schizophrenic". Instead, use first-person language and name the illness, such as “he has schizophrenia” or “a person with schizophrenia”. This change distinguishes the person from the illness and treats him as an individual rather than defining him by his illness.
- Avoid the article "the" and thereby avoid, "the mentally ill". Use first-person language, such as, "people with mental illnesses".
- Avoid the abstract, "mental illness," whenever you can, use the fully informative specific diagnosis.
- Avoid saying “committed suicide” or "failed/successful suicide attempt”. “Commit” connotes a crime, and suicide is not a crime. "Failed" and "successful" are ridiculous to use in this context. Instead, say “died by suicide” or “killed himself”.
- Don’t joke about mental illness, such as “I'd rather shoot myself”, “I’m OCD”, or “he must be bipolar”, to describe daily situations. Suicide and OCD are serious affliction, and talking about them casually is ignorant, insensitive, and minimizes their gravity. If you hear somebody say something like “Taking that class is suicide”, say that you know somebody who died by suicide (if you do) and that you’d like that this subject be treated with respect.
|Labels / Outdated Language||Preferred / First-Person Language|
|• A person with a mental health condition|
• A person with experience of [a mental health condition]
|• A person without a mental illness|
|• Paranoid schizophrenic|
|• A person with paranoid schizophrenia / Anorexia nervosa / Major depression / Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)|
|• Emotionally disturbed||• A person with an emotional disturbance|
|• Special education student||• A student receiving|
special education services
• Substance abuser
|• A person with a substance abuse disorder / experience of substance abuse|
• A person with alcohol abuse
|• Mentally ill / The mentally ill||• A person with mental illness|
• People with mental illnesses
• People with experience of mental illness
• Service recipient
|• Successful suicide|
• Unsuccessful / failed suicide
• Committed suicide
|• Died by suicide / killed oneself|
• Attempted suicide
• Performed suicide
|• That drives me crazy / nuts|
• That party was crazy
• My schedule is crazy
• He is nuts / mental
|• That bothers / annoys me|
• That party was sweet / off the hook / totally badass / hella fuckin’ balls-to-the-wall awesome
• My schedule is chaotic / hectic / busy
• He is weird / interesting / wild / funny