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These Terms Reinforce Mental Illness Stigma

Do you still throw around words like “crazy” or “psycho?” Despite being common (crazy is in the top 2,000 words used by Americans), terms like this actually reinforce stigma around those with mental illness.

The Impact of Ableist Language

Ableist language has several negative impacts:

  • It draws on unconscious biases. Who decides what is and is not normal? Trying to draw a clear line between rational behavior and “crazy” behavior requires a lot of judging and shaming, which ultimately benefits no one.
  • It causes further internalization of biases. Mental illness is not a joke or euphemism. The more certain words are used flippantly, the harder it becomes to change attitudes about the serious reality they refer to. 
  • It stigmatizes already marginalized people. People with mental illness face enough challenges without hearing hurtful phrases from their loved ones. As long as these phrases are so ingrained in popular language, the cycle of stigma will continue.

What Words Can Be Used Instead?

Make your vocabulary more interesting and be supportive to people with mental illness—finding alternatives to ableist language is a win-win. Here some ideas to get started:

When referring to person:

  • Unique
  • Atypical
  • Wild
  • Odd
  • Absurd

When describing an idea:

  • Bizarre
  • Unbelievable
  • Eccentric
  • Shocking
  • Unusual

When reacting to a situation:

  • Overwhelming
  • Bothersome
  • Exhausting
  • Annoying
  • Stressful

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