Do You Speak Stigma?



“Mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of,

but stigma and bias shame us all.”

– Bill Clinton

Many people speak fluent stigma, but don’t even realize it. Are you one of them?


Take a look at these statements—sound familiar?


  1. He is brain damaged
  2. He is psychotic
  3. She is mentally retarded
  4. He is autistic
  5. She is bipolar
  6. She committed suicide
  7. Addict, abuser, junkie

Sadly, the old adage, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me” couldn’t be further from the truth.

Changing your words (and perceptions) may not seem like a big thing, but to those who are on the receiving end of stigma, it can be life-changing. People with mental health illness and substance-use disorder issues react negatively to stigmatizing statements and actions. Rather than come forward and seek the support and treatment they need, they retreat in shame and fear of being judged and ostracized.

Instead of choosing language that is harmful, choose positive, person-first statements like these instead:


  1. He has a brain injury
  2. He experiences symptoms of psychosis/He hears voices
  3. She has an intellectual disability
  4. He has autism
  5. She is living with bipolar disorder
  6. She attempted suicide / She died by suicide
  7. Person with a substance-use disorder/Person experiencing alcohol/drug problems

Your Silence Is Deafening


“Why, when you have a mental disease, is it always considered an act of imagination? Why is it that every organ in your body can get sick and you get sympathy except the brain?”

– Ruby Wax, actress/comedian, mental health advocate

When we believe that a person is sick through no fault of their own and that they have no control over it, we don’t think twice about it. But with issues like substance-use disorder and mental health issues, people often mistakenly believe that these conditions are due to poor choices.

Mental illness and substance-use disorders are real medical illnesses, just like cancer, heart disease, diabetes, etc. We embrace and support individuals suffering from those illnesses. We rally our friends and sign up to bring casseroles. Yet those with diseases like substance-use disorder and mental health illness don’t get casseroles—they get crickets. Silence. Shunned. Whispered about behind their backs.

Your actions speak just as loudly as your words. Find out how you can turn lack of understanding and care into compassionate support.