Why Language Matters: 4 Words/Phrases to Stop Saying

Words have power. They are impactful. They can contribute to stigma and divide humanity. To help fight stigma, change your language.

By Cassie Jewell, LPC, LSATP

Have you ever been called a bitch? A creep? A whore? An idiot? Maybe someone said you were lazy or worthless or stupid. Words can hurt. They have power. (Consider the power of your name spoken aloud… you immediately respond by answering or turning your head… the sound commands your attention and response.)

Furthermore, words are impactful… not only for the person being labeled, but for an entire group of people. They contribute to stigma while fueling biases. They divide humanity. Retard. White trash. Crazy. Junkie. Nigger. Slut. Spic.

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A while back, a colleague made a racial slur in my presence. He seemed unaware, so I gently corrected him; he immediately lashed back, calling me the “PC Police.” Not only did this person perceive the slur as perfectly acceptable, he seemed to have a negative perception of “political correctness.” It was a joke to him: “People need to stop being so sensitive!” (Um, no… maybe people need to stop being degrading to each other!)

Honestly, I have trouble understanding the negativity surrounding political correctness. Why strive for anything other than accuracy? (Especially knowing the power language holds.)

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If you side against ignorance and want to end the stigma associated with mental illness, change your language. The following words or phrases contribute to stigma:

“Addict”

There are many negative connotations surrounding this word. Similarly, “alcoholic” can be demeaning. A person who is addicted to drugs or alcohol has a medical condition. Instead of calling them an addict (or junkie or tweaker or crackhead), say “individual with a substance use disorder.” Demonstrate the same empathy you would for a person who has cancer or MS or paralysis.

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“Schizophrenic”

Don’t label a person who suffers from mental illness. They are more than the disorder they’re afflicted with. Calling someone “schizophrenic” or “borderline” or “bipolar” reduces them to an illness, not a person. It’s dehumanizing.

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“Retarded”

True, “mental retardation” used to be the diagnostic terminology for classifying individuals with lower IQs. Today, however, it’s mostly used as an insult. The American Psychiatric Association has eliminated the term as a classification; the correct term is “intellectual disability.”

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“Committed suicide”

This phrase suggests that the person who dies by suicide is criminal. Criminals commit crimes. An individual who dies by suicide should not be placed in the same category. Instead, say “died by suicide.” This demonstrates respect for both the individual and their loved ones.

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Words have the power to influence and shape the world. You have power. Be a positive influence and choose to fight stigma instead of contributing to the toxicity.

 

#JunkieLivesDontMatter

A person who struggles with a substance use disorder is choosing that life. Why interfere? (Especially when all that money could be spent saving more DESERVING lives.) “Junkies” don’t deserve second chances because #JunkieLivesDontMatter

By Cassie Jewell, LPC, LSATP

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Disclaimer: If you happen to believe that addiction is a choice – “They’d quit if they really wanted to” or “They made the choice to use; they made the choice to die” – then scroll on to the next blog. You’d only scoff at this post because #JunkieLivesDontMatter

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This blog post is inspired, in part, by a Facebook meme.

The meme said,

“So if a kid has an allergic reaction the parents have to pay a ridiculous price for an Epi pen. But a junkie who has OD’d for their 15th time gets Narcan for free? What a screwed up world we live in.”

Implications: “Junkies” don’t deserve a second chance at life. They’re a waste of resources because they lack the willpower to stop using. A person who struggles with a substance use disorder is choosing that life. Why interfere? (Especially when all that money could be spent saving more deserving lives.)

If you believe it’s screwed up for a “junkie” to have a chance at life (and recovery) because they “chose addiction,” your opinion is contrary to the National Institute of Health, the American Medical Association, the American Psychiatric Association, and decades of scientific research. You’re either ignorant (maybe willfully so) or impressively arrogant. (Alternately, you could just be a jerk.) You’re a part of the movement: #JunkieLivesDontMatter

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Many have joined the movement, as evidenced by the following Facebook posts:

“Out of all of the houses, 2 hobos decided to overdose on my front steps… thank god the medics got here in time to ensure they could die another day…”

“I think we had less ODs before Narcan came on board. They realize they can be saved if gotten to in time. Maybe they need to be locked up & not let out until they attend rehab while in jail.”

“If it can be easily established that they have a recent history of drug [abuse]… then yes… withhold the lifesaving drug because they chose this. It’s harsh, but justice is not served by saving them.”

“If you don’t have it figured [out] by the 3rd overdose, you are just prolonging the inevitable and wasting tax payers money.”

“If we are repeatedly saving your life and you are not willing to change this behavior, why should we be obligated to keep saving you?”

“My personal opinion is we can’t keep letting people overdose and saving them just so they can repeat the cycle.”

“By continuously administering Narcan, sure, we’re saving their life, but are they really living? I don’t think so.”

#JunkieLivesDontMatter

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“No CPR for You, Fatty — You Chose Soda and Fast Food… Now Suffer the Consequences!”

According the the American Psychiatric Association,

Addiction is a complex condition, a brain disease that is manifested by compulsive substance use despite harmful consequence. People with addiction (severe substance use disorder) have an intense focus on using a certain substance(s), such as alcohol or drugs, to the point that it takes over their life. They keep using alcohol or a drug even when they know it will cause problems.

Addiction is a scientifically proven brain disease. Despite this, many persist in the belief that it’s a choice, or worse… a moral failing. (Note: This notion comes from an early model of addiction, “the moral model,” which was deeply rooted in religion. Addiction was attributed to a sinful nature and weakness of character. Therefore, the addict must repent… or suffer the consequences of his/her actions; addiction warranted punishment, not empathy. Unsurprisingly, this created stigma. It also prevented those struggling with addiction from seeking treatment. Centuries later, many hold on to the view that an individual suffering from a substance use disorder is lazy or weak.)

Today, in the midst of the opioid epidemic, stigma’s unrelenting grip perseveres. Stigma is a poison; it’s dehumanizing. It’s easy to forget a person is a person when you view them as garbage, trash… a “junkie.” Stigma tells us, “Take out the trash.”

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To fully recognize stigma’s impact, compare addiction to other diseases. Consider common medical emergencies; many are related to lifestyle. Imagine being hospitalized after your third stroke, and the doctor telling you, “This is the third time I’ve saved your life, yet you refuse to exercise. I shouldn’t be obligated to continue to provide life-saving care.” Or, imagine a long-time smoker who develops lung cancer; they’re not demeaned, called names, or denied treatment. Moreover, an EMS worker wouldn’t withhold CPR from an individual in cardiac arrest if they were obese. It’s not a debate.

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If You’re Dead, You Have a 0% Chance of Recovery

We’re in the midst of an epidemic.

According to the CDC, 115 Americans die from an opioid overdose every day.

In 2016, over 42,000 individuals died from opioid overdose.

Life expectancy in America is actually declining due to an increase in fatal overdoses.

Narcan does not enable addiction. It enables life. (A dead addict can’t recover.)

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#Recovery #Empathy #FightStigma #EndTheEpedemic #SaveALife


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