The most recent edition of the Associated Press Stylebook, which is the main reference guide in the writing world, no longer includes the word “addict.” The removal of the noun “addict” is a revolutionary step in destigmatizing the disease of addiction. Instead, the Stylebook encourages terminology like “a person with addictions.” This is person-first language and it is important and humanizing.
How we refer to people is an indication of what we think about them. And how we think influences our attitude toward individuals. When we call someone an “addict” or “junkie” we are continuing stigmatizing perceptions that hinder our society from advancement. People are not their disease. The disease is only a piece of who they are. If you use terminology like “addict” you objectify the person and miss that person’s uniqueness by minimizing the totality of who they are. You foster discrimination rather than tolerance.
Addiction and mental illness are chronic, relapsing conditions. People matter, so by placing the person first, the individual is accentuated. Mental illness and addiction are no longer the main, defining characteristic of the person. If we speak, write, think and act in a way that acknowledges the human element first, rather than the disease, our attitudes will foster positive messages which are inclusive and powerful.
Mental Health First Aid training promotes empowerment and strength when discussing mental health or substance use disease. After completing the eight-hour course, participants receive a certificate of completion, highlighting their new knowledge on Mental Health First Aid, which may help them save a life. At a training held earlier this year at St. Paul’s Gathering Space, 11 of our residents completed the course. One of the participants compared the importance of this training to the physical life-saving training method known as CPR.
The training provides people with a greater understanding of suitable language to use when discussing mental health and substance use challenges. And language is the first step in change. Remember to challenge yourself to talk positively about these disorders. Because words do matter.
For more information on Mental Health First Aid Training call 419-668-8649.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Dr. Beth B. Williams serves as executive director for the Huron County Board of Mental Health and Addiction Services in Norwalk