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Person-First Language in Behavioral Healthcare

a therapist takes notes in person-first language in a behavioral healthcare appointment

A staggering 50% of people with clinical-level mental health risks do not seek out the help they need and deserve to receive. In the U.S., a quarter of those individuals not seeking treatment say that it is due to not wanting others to know. This embarrassment is, in large part, due to the negative stigma that still surrounds mental health conditions and care. The stigma can lead to people feeling too ashamed to discuss their symptoms or seek treatment and act as a barrier to recovery. That stigma, this roadblock to care, can be life-threatening. But language can help destroy the stigma. In fact, person-first language in behavioral health care is a crucial piece of the puzzle for caring for vulnerable individuals. Contact Sunwave Health today online or by calling us at 561.576.6037 to learn about how our software for behavioral health providers utilizes person-first language in addiction treatment.

Person-First Language in Behavioral Health Care

At an organizational level, there is something your clinicians can do to change things. Language is a powerful tool, able to oppress or lift up in equal measure. Your team members’ choice of words can either break down harmful misconceptions and stereotypes surrounding addiction treatment and mental health care or add fuel to the fire already burning in the minds of those who are struggling and in need of professional medical help. Stigmatizing language, which includes words like “crazy,” only serves to perpetuate negative perceptions. This may result in people being excluded from employment opportunities, housing, social activities, and relationships. Additionally, people struggling with mental health and self-esteem tend to believe the negative things that others say about them. This can cause a dangerous delay in starting a recovery journey.

Using person-first language in behavioral health care, on the other hand, puts the focus on the individual, not their condition or diagnosis. Person-first language in mental health treatment is not difficult but may require a sharp pivot in practice that starts with making better choices and forming new habits for the betterment of your patients.

Having a better understanding of the experiences of people with mental health issues and addiction challenges can reduce or eliminate stigma and discrimination, and using person-first language in addiction treatment is a great place to start. Person-first language can validate an individual’s unique experiences without simply reducing them to a diagnosis or condition. These are words and phrases that help a person be seen as a person who has good qualities, a person who deserves kindness and care. Person-first language in mental health treatment also fosters greater understanding, dignity, and respect for everyone involved in the process of getting well and recovering, whether they are experiencing mental health challenges, addiction, or not. Together with your organization and its employees, the negative stigma can be eliminated.

Examples of Person-First Language in Mental Health Treatment

Person-first language in mental health treatment is a perfect example of how a simple, subtle shift in the ways in which people communicate can have meaningful impacts on our patients and the important people in their life. Some examples of pivoting toward person-first language in behavioral health care include:

  • Saying “A person living with mental health condition” instead of “crazy” or “lunatic”
  • Adding the phrase “A person living with…” to a diagnosis like bipolar or schizophrenia

The use of language is critical to ensuring a recovery-oriented and person-centered approach to health care. This subtle shift in language shows that your organization values patients as people, not merely cases or illnesses needing to be managed or treated. At the end of the day, these are people living with addiction or mental health conditions. Addressing them in a more positive way will go a long way to breaking down the stigma of mental health and may lead to more success in treatment and recovery rates.

Learn More at Sunwave Health

Sunwave Health’s software for behavioral health providers can make use of person-first language in behavioral health care to help your organization provide more compassionate care for patients. Learn how more by calling us 561.576.6037 today or reaching out to us online.