Updated: Apr 29, 2021
Using more inclusive language is important so that we can empower those we are speaking about and make efforts not to discriminate against people. In most cases, those who are using discriminatory or stigmatizing are doing so unknowingly. A quote that a professor in my undergraduate schooling told our class is that "people are ignorant until educated" and this has stuck with me ever since. Most humans do not purposely want to stigmatize others, but they do not know any better. This language is what some grew up hearing from friends and family or this language was what was taught before more research had been done. Once someone knows better they can do better. Here are some ways to be more inclusive with the language we choose to use when talking about mental health and trauma.
As a guiding rule, we are taught to use “person-first” language by talking about people as people first and not the condition they are living with second. For example, people are NOT Schizophrenic or not Anorexic. They are people living with Schizophrenia or an eating disorder. Just like how people are not Canceric - they are people living with Cancer. However, it is best to check in with people and see what language they prefer.
People die by suicide. Try to avoid saying that people “commit” suicide because the word “commit” suggests blame. We would never blame someone for having cancer, so let’s not blame people who are struggling so much that they believe that the best decision for them is to end their life. Take a compassionate stance and try to understand what would have led to their decision to end their life in the first place.
People are also living with their mental illnesses. Avoid saying that people are “suffering” because that implies that people's lives are unhappy and unwell. There is hope. People are managing the best that they can. In fact, some people find that the experiences they have faced end up leading them to great changes and lessons in their lives. We don’t want to paint mental illness in a negative life by saying that those with mental illness are “suffering” and barely getting by.
When talking about behavior - let’s also
choose to say that behavior is or is not “typical” because no one can actually define what “normal” is.
Finally, let’s return the power of those who have survived the assault. Of course, survivors have nonetheless been victims of the unimaginable. But let us use language carefully so that we do not keep them victimized by the words we use. The term “survivor” conveys power, strength, and recovery.