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 Supportive Language That Makes a Person Feel Safe and Heard?
Language matters in compassionate care, and that is not just limited to what you say in front of a patient. What you say behind closed doors to coworkers, friends and family can be the seed for stigma, and not recognizing cultural differences may lead people to distrust and avoid treatment.
After experiencing a traumatic event, many people struggle to share their experiences and reactions with others. When they do open up, it may result in several reactions for you, making it difficult to know how exactly to respond. What you say matters in helping the survivor feel safe and understood.
Are You Using Destigmatizing Language About Suicide?
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 co-workers can be the seed for stigma and perpetuate discrimination against a person based on a physical or mental health disorder. The topic of suicide, and the sometimes-stigmatizing language around it, must be handled with compassion. The language you use can be an important factor in whether or not a person decides to seek care.
Are You Using Culturally/Racially Aware Language?
Language matters in compassionate care, and that is not limited to what you say in front of a patient. What you say behind closed doors to coworkers, friends and family can be the seed for stigma.
Stigma, along with structural racism and societal and economic factors, can prevent people from reaching out for help or getting the care they seek. Using culturally/racially aware language can help remove negative and stereotypical labels and improve patient-provider encounters.
How Do You Perceive Mental Health Conditions?
Language matters in compassionate care, including what you say behind closed doors with co-workers, friends or family. Understanding the prevalence of mental health conditions is an important step in how you perceive individuals and in destigmatizing mental illness. Consider the following scenarios to educate yourself and others on how to fight stigma with facts.
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.
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.
Additional Resource(s): Shatterproof: Reversing the Addiction Crisis in the U.S.
Chair File: Understanding and Treating Substance Use Disorders by Nancy Agee, AHA Board Chair and President and CEO of Carilion Clinic