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MidContinental Region News April 20th, 2021
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The Stigma of Language

Posted in: #CC/Academic List, #Health Interest List, #Health Sciences List, #Public/K-12 List, All Members

Dana Abbey – Community Engagement Coordinator/Colorado

A single word can sensationalize or stigmatize mental illness and substance use. Terms can suggest that an individual lacks quality of life, will behave in a certain way, or trivialize their desire to seek help. It’s very likely that we know someone with a mental illness or substance use disorder. Nearly one in five adults live with a mental illness[i], and one in ten adults report having resolved a significant substance use problem.[ii]

There are simple ways we can reframe the language we use. During reference interactions, teaching, and in casual conversations we can choose words that are grounded in dignity and respect.

Everymind, a research institute dedicated to reducing mental health has put together preferred language to use when communicating about mental illness. Here are a few examples of ways to reframe what we say[iii]:

Mental Health Language

The National Institute on Drug Abuse[iv] has compiled terms to use and avoid when talking about addiction. The information can be used by consumers and health care providers.

Substance Use Disorder Language




[i]Mental illness. (n.d.). Retrieved February 20, 2021, from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/mental-illness.shtml.

[ii] Kelly, J. F., Bergman, B. G., Hoeppner, B. B., Vilsaint, C. L., & White, W. L. (2017). Prevalence and pathways of recovery from drug and alcohol problems in the United States population: Implications for practice, research, and policy.Drug and Alcohol Dependence, 181(Supplement C), 162-169. doi: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.drugalcdep.2017.09.028.

[iii]“Mental Health Is Important to Every Person and Every Community.” Everymind, https://everymind.org.au/mental-health.

[iv] National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Words Matter – Terms to Use and Avoid When Talking about Addiction.” 28 Jan. 2021. Web. 20 Feb. 2021, https://www.drugabuse.gov/nidamed-medical-health-professionals/health-professions-education/words-matter-terms-to-use-avoid-when-talking-about-addiction.



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This project has been funded in whole or in part with Federal funds from the Department of Health and Human Services, National Institutes of Health, National Library of Medicine, under cooperative agreement number UG4LM012344 with the University of Utah Spencer S. Eccles Health Sciences Library.

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