“Person First Language”

The mental health field is slowly changing its language to be more “person-centered”. This shift has been long awaited by some and is being met with confusion from others, both in and out of the community.

Where this idea comes from seems to make perfect sense on the surface. After all, a person is, in fact, SO much more than whatever mental illness they may suffer from. For example, rather than calling someone an “anorexic”, they could be referred to as “a person with anorexia”. By default this creates a separation between the person and their disease.

I recently read more into this concept in the comments section of a Facebook post. Where the discussion was when it is or isn’t okay to use an adjective as an identifier.

My only question from this conversation is: at what point did identifying with a group also require a slight separation from it?

As someone who works a 12 Step Program, I can personally attest to the fact that people don’t introduce themselves as “ a person that struggles with _____.”

When I say my name in a meeting, it’s “Barbara, alcoholic/addict/etc.” because at the end of the day, that’s what I am. It’s a part of my identity. I don’t say that I’m an anorexic in a meeting because in that moment it isn’t a relevant part of my identity. But when someone asks what eating disorder I have, my answer is “oh, I’m an anorexic”.

I hear what they’re saying in that for people without a mental illness, or other marginalizing factor, it can be helpful to remember that those around us are also people.

At the end of the day, we’re all just people dealing with our own things.

But do I personally think that separating myself via wording will change my outlook on myself or others? No. We’re all still complicated people with our own emotions and experiences.

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