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Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration Department of Health and Human Services

Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration Center for Mental Health Services

Last Updated: 6/22/2012

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SAMHSA’s Resource Center to Promote Acceptance,
Dignity and Social Inclusion Associated with
Mental Health (ADS Center)

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"Words have power. They have the power to teach, the power to wound, the power to shape the way people think, feel, and act toward others. When a stigmatized group of people, such as those with mental illnesses, is struggling for increased understanding and acceptance, attention to the language used in talking and writing about them is particularly important." 1

Words can limit potential. People with mental illnesses want to be known for their skills, talents, and abilities, not for their diagnosis or "label." A mental illness, like a physical illness, does not define a person. In addition, terms such as "crazy" or "nuts" reinforce the discrimination and negative attitudes associated with mental illnesses and often keep those who need and want help from seeking treatment.

Focusing on use of language is often the first place to start addressing social exclusion and discrimination against people with mental illnesses.

Information on this topic can be found in the following materials.

1Wahl, O. F. (June 1998). People first language matters. The Bell (newsletter of the National Mental Health Association).

This Web site was developed under contract with the Office of Consumer Affairs in SAMHSA’s Center for Mental Health Services. The views, opinions, and content provided on this Web site do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, or policies of SAMHSA or HHS. The resources listed in this Web site are not all-inclusive and inclusion on this Web site does not constitute an endorsement by SAMHSA or HHS.