The Impact of Language on Behavioral Health
Stigma, Policy and Practice
By Robert Ashford
The language used to discuss and describe mental health and substance use has changed dramatically over the last 100 years. Modern and postmodern society has transcended labels such as teetotaler, derelict, crazy, and psycho, though iterations of these negatively associated phrases remain. Changing linguistic trends within the mental health and substance use disorder fields have been propelled forward by the inclusion of concepts such as person-first language; first by mental health advocates, and later co-opted by advocates within the substance use disorder space. Similarly, medical professionals are driving change towards the use of more clinically appropriate language (e.g. substance use disorders, rather than substance dependence and abuse), which is having both positive and negative impacts.
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