The importance of language regarding mental health stigma
[Regarding May 17 issue guest opinion: Reducing mental health stigma key to supporting healthy communities]
“Advocacy For” is the positive use of language to achieve positive goals. It is measured by the frequency of positive affirmations, the infrequency of negatives. As simple as that seems, recognizing the positives and the negatives in a society which confuses the two is often difficult.
The use of positives must be deliberate, constant, and consistent, for it takes many positives to overcome one single negative. Though it is a rule of “Advocacy For” to present the positive, sometimes negatives are so well-established, focusing on them can bring them clearly to peoples’ consciousness.
In the simplest, most common of metaphors lie the most powerful negatives.
A First Primer of “Don’ts”
Avoid the intransitive verbs “are” or “is” and thereby avoid the offensive labeling of people as “schizophrenics” or “a schizophrenic.” Instead, use person-centered language and name the illness, such as “He/she has schizophrenia.”
Avoid the articles “the”, “a”, and thereby avoid “the” mentally ill, “a” depressive. Use “person-centered” language, such as “people with bipolar disorder” or an “individual with depression.”
Avoid using adjectives that label people. Instead, use substantives, naming their conditions.
Avoid “mental illness.” Whenever you can use the fully informative, specific diagnosis.
Avoid “mental illness” in the singular. Use the plural “mental illnesses” as there are many.
Avoid “mental” illness. Whenever possible, use illness instead. They are illnesses.
Avoid the innuendo “stigma”, it victimizes. Use instead “prejudice” or “discrimination,” specifics which can be concretely addressed or redressed.
Avoid recounting “myths,” as they are repeated in folk cultures well-known, instead inform and educate to truths.
Avoid what is “not” true, educate to truths.
Harold A. Maio Ft. Myers, Fla.
Give serious thought to Convention of States
No matter where you are on the political spectrum, I think we all can agree our Constitution remains one of the greatest, most venerable documents ever written. However, even the framers knew it would need to be changed. On 27 occasions, using the Article V process, Congress proposed amendments that would be ratified by the states and become part of the Constitution. But what happens when Congress refuses to propose an amendment? What if proposing such an amendment were not in their best interest, yet the people desired it?
This is exactly why the framers included two modes to propose amendments, the first being Congress, and the second being a convention for proposing amendments or a Convention of States. Both are equal, with the sole power of proposing amendments. Congress cannot propose and ratify changes to the Constitution any more than an Article V Convention of States can.
George Mason, along with the rest of the Framers of the Constitution, knew that someday Congress would abuse its power, so in true form to the system of checks and balances that permeates the entire Constitution, they added an additional provision for the states to check the power in Washington.
District Court Judge and law professor, St. George Tucker, said in 1803 of Article V: “Both of these provisions appear excellent. Of the utility and practicability of the former [Congress], we have already had most satisfactory experience. The latter [Convention of States] will probably never be resorted to, unless the federal government should betray symptoms of corruption, which may render it expedient for the states to exert themselves in order to the application of some radical and effectual remedy.”
The founders were clear on the purpose of both modes of proposing amendments in Article V. We would do well to heed their words of wisdom and give serious thought to the utilization of that latter mode, that Convention of States.
Fred Singleton Kooskia