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Why “Person-First” Language Is Important

Stigma is defined as “an attribute, behavior, or condition that is socially discrediting,” according to the Recovery Research Institute. It also is “know to decrease treatment seeking behaviors in individuals with substance use disorders.”

Person-first language is defined as “a linguistic prescription structuring sentences to name the person first and the condition or disease from which they suffer, second,” according to the Recovery Research Institute. “Person-first language articulates that the disease is a secondary attribute and not the primary characteristic of the individual’s identity.

What we say and how we say it is important. We have the power to help or hurt someone with our words. Society has deemed the R-word and other similar words as insensitive and hurtful. If the person directly dealing with the illness says society has hurt them because of the use of this particular language, we as a society do not get to say that we haven’t. We must listen with empathetic ears and make the correct changes.

When talking about addiction, most people are not as thoughtful. Person-first language is a simple way to make a big difference in how we talk about addiction and mental illnesses. Start to eliminate the words “addict” or “alcoholic” from your vocabulary. This insinuates that all the person is, is their addiction. Instead, you can start saying that “the person is suffering from an addiction or disorder.”

Person-first language is not limited to addictions and mental illnesses. It is good to get in the habit of using person-first terms in all aspects of how we refer to people. Instead of saying “the cancer patient,” you can start saying “the woman who has cancer.” Likewise, you can start saying “the man who is blind,” instead of “the blind man.” Everyone who is suffering from something is more than just their sufferings.

We are stigmatizing those who are suffering every time we opt for disease-first language. It’s not funny to say the R-word anymore, so let’s take the next step and stop using stigmatizing language when talking about those living with mental illnesses.

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