How to Fight Stigma with Language

May 17, 2023 Rachel Craft

Though our society has come a long way in the perception of mental illness, stigmas around this topic are still alive and well. Stigma can be blatant or subtle; sometimes, it’s as small as an individual word or phrase. Here are some tips for choosing the right words and using language to fight mental illness stigma. 

'Crazy' Language Contributes to Stigma

By now, many people are aware that words like “crazy” and “insane” are inappropriate and downright offensive ways to describe people with mental illness. Sadly, these words are still commonly misused in our society—not just to describe people, but to describe objects and events. Instead of saying, “That was nuts!” try to be more specific. Maybe it was interesting, tragic, or shocking instead. 

Similarly, don’t misapply mental illness labels to people or objects. Someone who keeps their desk neat is not “obsessive-compulsive.” A movie can be sad, but don’t call it “depressing.” Weather can be unpredictable, but don’t describe it as “bipolar.” Misusing mental illness terms to describe mundane things like weather can contribute to a culture that minimizes the actual disease.

Fight Stigma with Language that Is Person-First

Use person-first language to avoid labeling people by their disease. Instead of calling someone “a depressed person,” use “a person with depression.” This may not seem like a big difference until you think about it in terms of other illnesses. Our culture would never call someone “an allergic person” or “heart diseased,” and the same should be true of mental illnesses. Person-first language helps remind people that you see them as individuals, not diagnoses.

Words like “suffering,” “afflicted,” and “victim” may seem appropriate in some situations, but over time they can paint an overly negative picture. This type of language can contribute to society’s view of people with mental illness as weak. Instead of calling someone a “victim of depression,” say they’re “living with depression.” Instead of a “trauma victim,” use “trauma survivor.”

Once you know about stigma and language, you’ll be surprised how often words are used and misused in daily conversation. Everyone has some bad habits when it comes to language and stigma—it’s impossible not to when our culture is so full of labels and misconceptions. Often, people don’t realize their language is harmful or understand why. If we retrain our brains to use the right words and encourage others to do the same, we can fight back against mental illness stigma every day.

APA Reference
Craft, R. (2023, May 17). How to Fight Stigma with Language, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 13 from

Author: Rachel Craft

Find Rachel on Twitter and her personal blog.

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