Why words matter when discussing addiction and mental health

Why words matter when discussing addiction and mental health


– We now return to
Arizona Public Media’s special series, Arizona
Addicted where we take a closer look at
the opioid epidemic, an issue with widespread
challenges and
difficult solutions. But one simple step
in the right direction comes down to how we
talk about addiction. Mark Person with a Pima County
Health Department explain the power our words
can have in the fight to overcome stigma. What are some stigmatizing
words, some of the language that we may
use that are problematic? – Yeah, there’s no
shortage of ’em. And a lot of things that
you and I have heard out there are pretty common
in society or in families. The things like
drug addict, junkie. Or criminalizing it in
some form or another. The disease that the person
is struggling with becomes the identity of the person. So I’m no longer Mark
the person that struggles with substance use. I’m Mark, the heroin addict. Or Mark the druggie. Or Mark the criminal. And so those type of words that
we really hear pretty common are the things that
wind up kind of creating more harm than good. – What are the better
terms to be utilizing? – So again, in our
field we talk about it as person first language. So you put the person first and the things that
they need help for are not that person’s identity. So if I’m a person that
struggles with heroin addiction. This is Mark is here. He’s struggling with heroin use. Or he struggles with
an addiction to heroin but you don’t wanna call
him Mark the heroin addict. We’re gonna use the wrong
language from time to time and that’s not the
heart of the issue. The heart of the issue
is the perception that we have about the person. So viewing them as
immoral, or criminal or a risk, or dangerous or evil. You know, that’s the
part that’s harmful. – This is a tough subject. How do you convince
the skeptics? But also the families? I mean I’ve spoken
with families who say they’ve been lied
to, stolen from. Physically, verbally abused. And the last thing
they wanna think about is how to use the
right language when there’s a tough love
component happening here. – Sure. And in those settings the
most important thing first is that the person gets
help and then we support ’em but we’re not asking
a family member to again, just sort of
dismiss having been wronged. Anybody that is
in recovery or has gone through substance
use treatment has a story to tell like that. And they’ll themselves
tell you that I’ve burned a lot of
bridges along the way. I’ve done a lot of harm and
I’ve got a lot of work to do to make those
wrongs right again. But they have to have
that chance to do it. And if they’re not
given the opportunity it makes recovery even harder. – What’s at stake
if we don’t change the way we think about and
talk about these issues? – I mean for both substance
use and mental health I think if we continue down
the same path that we have and with the kind of
assumption that people are dangerous or
a risk to society we’re gonna perpetuate
that same problem. And what happens
is people don’t get the care that they need. They don’t get the treatment
that they need because out of fear basically. Rather than seeking help,
we’re in the hospital or the ED or there’s self
harming behaviors where they’ve
developed substance use or a form of addiction to
kinda self treat those things. And so that impacts everyone. People with a mental
illness are incarcerated at a much higher rate than
the average population. They’re homeless. Rates are much higher. Unemployment rates. All those things and a lot
of that is tied to stigma. – It sounds like the
consequences are real and for those people who
don’t think they are affected somehow, some way
they’ll feel it at some point in the future. – Absolutely. And especially with
the widespread messages
through politics and media and radio and
movies and how these things are portrayed and illustrated. It’s everywhere. – Okay. Mark, thank you. – Absolutely.

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