How To Talk About Mental Illness

Just like saying "that's gay" is insensitive to the gay community, saying "that's crazy" is insensitive to people with mental illness. A simple way to advocate for mental health and help alleviate mental illness prejudice is by changing such language when talking about mental illness as well as correcting others when they misuse this language.

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Labels / Outdated LanguagePreferred / First-Person Language
• Crazy
• Psycho
• Insane
• Lunatic
• A person with a mental health condition
• A person with experience of [a mental health condition]
• Normal
• Sane
• A person without a mental illness
• Healthy
• Paranoid schizophrenic
• Anorexic
• Depressive
• Obsessive-compulsive
• 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
• Addict
• Substance abuser
• Alcoholic
• 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
• Patient
• Client
• Case
• Individual
• Service recipient
• Consumer
• Survivor
• 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


Union Tribune Contributes to Stigma... Again

The San Diego Union-Tribune editorial cartoonist, Steve Breen, has once again created a graphic that stigmatizes against all individuals who seek mental health treatment. The cartoon depicts an individual laying on a chaise with a therapist taking notes on a chair nearby. The patient's head is a grenade and the caption above the cartoon says 'Lawyers: James Holmes was psychiatric patient prior to shooting'.


This graphic stigmatizes against all individuals who seek mental health treatment.

"the overall contribution of mental disorders to the total level of violence in society is exceptionally small." --U. S. Surgeon General

There are a lot of reasons why violence occurs in our society, most of which have nothing to do with mental illness.