Words with Friends


Words With Friends is one of the more popular game apps. This post is about a different application for words with friends – it refers to the language we use with friends, family and others to describe mental health. The Hogg Foundation for Mental Health released an excellent resource titled: Language Matters in Mental Health to guide and encourage the choice of words we use when we talk about mental health and people with mental health conditions.

The information is well-aligned withthe objective of the One in Five Minds campaign. Visitors to our website are encouraged to add their names to the pledge to support One in Five Minds and support increasing access to treatment for children and families contending with mental health conditions. By adding your name to our One in Five Minds site, you commit to learning more about mental health, sharing information, encouraging friends and family to speak up, and discouraging the stigmatization of mental health. And the language we use goes a long way to helping us effectively encourage and discourage.

In the brochure, the Hogg Foundation for Mental Health introduces the concept of “people-first” language. People-first language is a thoughtful guideline for choosing words that are appropriate and respectful when speaking about mental health. As noted in the piece, “It focuses on people’s abilities instead of their limitations. It always puts the person first before the mental health condition to demonstrate his or her dignity and worth.”

The brochure provides several specific examples as to how to rephrase the words we use. “For example, instead of calling someone ‘mentally ill,’ the more appropriate, respectful phrase is ‘a person with a mental illness.’” And instead of labeling someone “emotionally disturbed” the more appropriate “people-first language” would be to say “He has a serious emotional disturbance.” Take a few moments to read through this resource for other examples of people-first language. Small changes in the words we use can have a big impact on the way we communicate, and help open a dialog with individuals and families who are hesitant to discuss children’s mental health conditions.

(Source: Hogg Foundation for Mental Health, Language Matters in Mental Health, Div. of Diversity and Community Engagement, The University of Texas at Austin, January 2012 www.hogg.utexas.edu)