In public health we’re faced with a dilemma. We want to help people – that’s our goal, that’s why we do what we do. But at the same time, we also need to be careful how we approach public health concerns – the last thing we want to do is further stigmatize the very people we’re trying to help. One of the most subtle, but most powerful ways we can either empower or belittle others is in the language we use.
One area at the forefront of this is the field of mental health research. The “traditional” language would be a “X person,” where X refers to any mental health issue. But this isn’t the best language to use. For one, it defines the person by their illness – not by who they are. They have X, first and foremost. Not their interests, their personalities, their hobbies. They’re labelled and defined.