First-Person Language: Separating Mental Illness and Identity

Language is a powerful thing. It can be used to express feelings, identify oneself, and categorize oneself. The mental health world has moved away from the verbiage that describes individuals with mental illness as depressed, schizophrenic, etc, and now uses verbiage that describes people in new terms. For instance, new language describes people with mental illness as exactly that, a person with a mental illness. This movement towards changing the verbiage has a lot of effects. The first one being that it expands the idea of who someone is. So, someone can be a person with depression and also describe an array of other personality traits. The goal is to say that someone living with a mental illness is bigger than the illness itself. The illness only describes one facet of an individual’s being.

For caregivers, family, and friends of those with mental illness, it can allow individuals who care about the person with mental illness to cease to describe a person as only their mental illness. This broadens the holistic view of individuals. While sometimes it’s easy to see someone as just an illness, disease, or differently abled, instead, this change in verbiage allows people to care about and understand their loved one as someone living with a difficult illness that is one aspect of their being. Holistic ideas about mental illness allow an individual to be seen as a whole person. That’s been the goal of the psychosocial model of mental illness. The goal has been to look at every facet of a human being and describe their life as meaningful regardless of the struggles they go through. We often use language to disparage people or make them feel dehumanized. This language seeks to create a bridge and provide a balanced look at an individual’s full life.

Caregivers and loved ones of individuals living with mental illness get caught up in the illness they are helping their loved one live with. This can often times consume the loved one as much as the individual living with mental illness. It’s in the interest of caregivers and loved ones to seek a different outlook, especially if the illness becomes a big topic or the entire relationship with the individual. Caregivers and loved ones get caught up in the treatment, medication, and psychotherapy of their loved one without seeing all the positive attributes of the individual separate of the illness. That is what the effort of changing the verbiage has been able to do, lessen the impact of mental illness and provide a reprieve to the caretaker of all the stressors that come with taking care of someone with mental illness.

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