People Matter, Words Matter

Words can transmit stigma. Studies have shown that people with psychiatric and/or substance use disorders often feel judged, outside and inside the health care system. This can lead them to avoid, delay or stop seeking treatment. The way we talk about people with a behavioral disorder can change lives – in either a positive or negative manner.

The AHA, together with behavioral health and language experts from member hospitals and partner organizations, will release a series of downloadable posters to help your employees adopt patient-centered, respectful language. Please consider downloading, printing and sharing each poster with your team members and encourage them to use this language both in front of patients and when talking to colleagues. People matter and the words we use to describe them or the disorders they have matter.

Are you using compassionate SUD language?

Talking to and about an individual with a substance use disorder means seeing them as a person battling a severe illness. Our words reflect our thinking and make a profound difference in the outcome of care. Let’s choose to inspire and support our patients by reducing stigmatizing language. Thanks to Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine and Carilion Clinic for being a source of this poster.


Download Poster

Using people-first language

Language matters in compassionate care, especially in behavioral health care, and that doesn’t mean just what you say in front of a patient. What you say behind closed doors with coworkers can be the seed for stigma and perpetuate discrimination against a person based on a physical or mental disorder. Using people-first language means speaking in a way that primarily acknowledges the person, rather than the illness or disability. Thanks to Linden Oaks Behavioral Health for being a source of this poster.

Download Poster

Learn More

Chair File: Understanding and Treating Substance Use Disorders by Nancy Agee, AHA Board Chair and President and CEO of Carilion Clinic

Campaign to Change Direction

Join Change Direction to change the culture of mental health. Read more about how New Hampshire has joined the campaign to #ChangeMentalHealth.

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