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SAMHSA’s Award-Winning Newsletter
July/August 2010, Volume 18, Number 4 

Continuing Thoughts on “What’s in a Term?”

Readers have continued to send in responses to the question in the March/April 2010 issue of SAMHSA News, “What’s in a Term?” See SAMHSA News May/June 2010 for the first batch of responses. Selected excerpts of recent responses follow.

On Language in General

  • Having a label that is better or nice does not change the fact that the system currently requires a label and identifier to function. Since there isn’t a “none of the above” option, the “Language Matters” aspect of this only matters to the degree that the terms are not overtly demeaning.
  • Everyone is a person with common needs, such as significance and belonging.
  • As both a person who needs and benefits from access to mental health services, and a clinical social worker, I believe it’s important to allow people to define their own terms, to choose the language they wish to identify with.
  • I don’t believe it’s possible for anything to be “too political.” Everything is political, and everything is personal.
  • Person first language varies from individual to individual, organization to organization, etc. But thinking in terms of kindness and respect goes a long way.
  • Everyday someone out there has a nervous breakdown, has trouble putting their demons to bed, or is just having trouble coping with life, and then they try and reach out for help. What they get in return is “stigma.”
  • I think we should use terms whose connotation is respect and dignity and after all, it is not the word I have been called but the way I have been treated that influences my opinions.

On Terms for Individuals

  • What would I call a mental health consumer? Words that come to mind are amazing person, a conqueror, human being extraordinaire, gutsy person, courageous person, a flexible, tolerant person.
  • Survivor—as someone who lives with post-traumatic stress disorder, this word resonates with me. I survived the trauma. I continue to survive in spite of ridiculously difficult intrusive symptoms.

On Recovery

  • “Recovery” has unfortunate connotations. We are not returning to a normal—there is none. We don’t go back; we reach new places.
  • Recovery is “growing through”—not necessarily past or beyond.
  • Recovery implies that you’re merely trying to get back to where you were, rather than someplace better.

On Prevention

  • As the mother of a daughter with bipolar disorder, I offer the following. “Prevention” as it relates to mental health/behavioral health/mental illness implies that disorders such as bipolar, schizophrenia, depression, etc. could have been “prevented.” To my knowledge, there is no way (yet) to prevent these illnesses; however, there are many ways that we could intervene earlier (early intervention). I recommend that you stay away from the word prevention, as it implies that children wouldn’t have these illnesses if appropriate steps had been taken (by the parents) to prevent it.
  • Treatment of anything is on a continuum of prevention…preventing the disease or illness from getting worse.

On Behavioral Health

  • Behavioral health, in my opinion, is just bad. Although behavior is the only externally measurable variable, focusing on behavior alone compresses the realities of meaning, story, and humanity out of treatment. What causes me problems in living isn’t just behavior. Behavioral health doesn’t do anything to address the why or how, only the what.

On Mental Illness

  • I find the term “mental illness” to be outdated and very negative. It sounds hopeless and reminds me of something that is destined to be with a person for a very, very long time—if not forever. I prefer the term “mental health challenge” or just about anything else!
  • The term “mentally ill” is a horrible label to put on anyone. It reminds me of the old red brick buildings on the outskirts of town where the mentally ill were kept—out of sight and out of mind.
  • If a person is “mentally ill,” then the idea of recovery seems far away. It could be a person with a mental health challenge instead of a mentally ill person.

On the Mental Health Care System

  • I feel the mental health care system does not put people’s needs first above their own agenda(s), and this needs to change. Our society as a whole has more illnesses than ever before, both mentally and physically, and both should be treated with equal importance. Nothing will ever change until this happens!!!
  • The mental health care system needs to start taking care of the whole person—mind, body, and soul. To put it another way, you can’t just address the outer leaves on the tree to see why the tree is unhealthy—you have to be willing to examine the roots as well; otherwise you are just putting a band-aid on the tree and not dealing with the real problem that still lies beneath.
  • It can’t be just about “Terms” it has to be about helping people and doing the right thing in the mental health care system.
  • I think getting housing for mentally individuals and appropriate treatment and assistance should be more emphasized than a word or term. I understand the nuances, connotations, and political correctness are important, but I suggest getting “the mental health house” in order and then hang the appropriate “shingle.”

On Extending the Conversation

  • Many people who live with mental illnesses don’t have access to the internet. Please go to group homes, state hospitals, homeless and domestic violence shelters, talk to kids and families in and out of child welfare and residential treatment.

  Cover Story & Related Articles  
Oil Spill Response

Oil Spill Response

SAMHSA efforts make behavioral health a top priority.

  From the Administrator  
Coping with the Oil Spill

Coping with the Oil Spill

SAMHSA Administrator Pamela S. Hyde, J.D., talks about participating in public forums in the Gulf states. Read more.

What’s in a Term:  Latest Responses

What’s in a Term: Latest Responses

SAMHSA has received more than 250 emails in response to the Administrator’s call for comments. Read selected responses.

  Recovery Month  
Ready for Recovery Month?

Ready for Recovery Month?

September is here! Visit for details on the biggest celebration yet!

  Multicultural Outreach & Data  
Campaigns Focus on Three Populations

Campaigns Focus on Three Populations

For Chinese, Hispanic, and Native young adults, new public service campaigns focus on mental health.

Responding to Child Traumatic Grief

Responding to Child Traumatic Grief

When children lose loved ones, what happens then? Also read about creating a trauma narrative.

Policy Academy Promotes Behavioral Health for Service Members

Policy Academy Promotes Behavioral Health

SAMHSA recently convened a Policy Academy to help soldiers as they return from the battlefield.

Dramatic Rise in Abuse of Pain Relievers

Dramatic Rise in Abuse of Pain Relievers

More treatment admissions report abuse of pain relievers.

Admission Patterns over a Decade

Admission Patterns over a Decade

Marked changes have occurred in admissions for substance abuse treatment in the past 10 years.

In the ER:  Reports on Suicide Attempts

In the ER: Reports on Suicide Attempts

What substances showed up in emergency rooms related to suicide attempts by adolescents and young adults?

States Report on Substance Use, Mental Health

States Report on Substance Use, Mental Health

State-level analyses update data on alcohol abuse, cocaine, pain relievers, and more.

  Women & Substance Abuse  
New Data on  Women Who Work Full Time

New Data on Women Who Work Full Time

How does employment affect women’s substance abuse and treatment?

  Suicide Prevention  
Remember the Lifeline!

Remember the Lifeline!

Feeling desperate, alone, or hopeless? Call SAMHSA’s National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

Medicaid Eligibility & Mental Illness

Medicaid Eligibility & Mental Illness

Read about a program that helped increase Medicaid enrollment by 17 percent.

  Other News  
Treatment Directory Available

Treatment Directory Available

National Directory of Drug and Alcohol Abuse Treatment Programs 2010 is now available.

Entertainment Industry Meets with Treatment Experts

SAMHSA’s Dr. H. Westley Clark participated in an expert panel to discuss accurate depictions of substance abuse in entertainment.


Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration – 1 Choke Cherry Road – Rockville, MD 20857
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