250 labels used to stigmatise people with mental illness


Most young people who are mentally ill do not seek help. Yet mental illnesses among children and adolescents are common, affecting about 10% of young people. The rates for some mental disorders, including suicide, are increasing. Up to half of those who fail to complete secondary school have mental illness. Those who do, more often turn to friends and family for help than to health professionals. Teenagers seek help less often than adults. As few as 4% of young people with a mental illness seek help from a family doctor, and consultation rates are especially low among young men. This paper argues that the stigma against mental illness is a powerful (and potentially reversible) contributory factor towards the reluctance of many young people to seek help for mental illness…

Conclusion:  Our findings suggest the hypothesis that help-seeking by mentally ill young people may be improved by interventions that address both their lack of factual information about mental illness, and those which reduce their strong negative emotional reactions towards people with mental illness.

Click to access NAABT_Language.pdf

Stigma remains the biggest barrier to addiction treatment faced by patients. The terminology used to describe addiction has contributed to the stigma. Many derogatory, stigmatizing terms were championed throughout the “War on Drugs” in an effort to dissuade people from misusing substances. Education took a backseat, mainly because little was known about the science of addiction. That has changed, and the language of addiction medicine should be changed to reflect today’s greater understanding. By choosing language that is not stigmatizing, we can begin to dismantle the negative stereotype associated with addiction…


There is an endless list of words frequently deployed to describe both recreational and problematic drug users — “druggie”, “crackhead,” “addict,” “junkie” — with the language overwhelmingly derogatory and offensive…

As the Drug Policy Alliance notes, there is “no physical or psychiatric condition [that] is more associated with social disapproval and discrimination than substance dependence.” As the sociologist Erving Goffman wrote in the 1960s, stigmatization is an informal social control and one that seriously damages an individual’s social identity.

Yet, in spite of this, the vitriol aimed at drug users lingers.

Stigmatizing language pervades all spheres, from society and medical professionals, to the media and politicians. When the latter group do admit to having tried drugs in the past, their tone is generally one of deep regret. These supposedly guilt-laden “confessions” imply that there is always a severe lack of judgement present when an illicit substance is consumed and reinforces the idea that any form of illicit drug use is fundamentally wrong. Hardly the case.

A recently published Substance Abuse article unravels the complex web of language around drug use, highlighting the detrimental impact stigma can have, particularly in the field of addiction…

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