Use of Language

The Center for Psychiatric Rehabilitation’s website reflects the work of our organization and our contributions to knowledge development, dissemination, and training in the field of psychiatric rehabilitation. In every endeavor that we undertake, including our website, we strive to ensure the use of “people first language.” Although there is no universal agreement on terminology, the consensus favors “people first language” which was promoted through a document entitled, “Guidelines for Reporting and Writing about People with Disabilities” (2001). First published by the University of Kansas, these guidelines were developed to inform professionals from various fields about preferred language usage and to suggest straightforward terminology for portraying people with disabilities. These guidelines were endorsed by over 100 national disability organizations and are used by the Associated Press. The American Psychological Association Publication Manual (2001) also provides guidance on language bias to assist authors and emphasizes the importance of using language that maintains the integrity of people as human beings.

As the term suggest, “people first language” puts people first, not their disability. For example, according to the guidelines people should refer to a “person with schizophrenia” or “a person who has experienced schizophrenia” rather than give a person a generic label such as “a schizophrenic.” In this way, the person, rather than their functional limitations, is the subject of the sentence and the focus of the statement. Preferred terms for talking about people with mental illnesses include “people with emotional disorders, psychiatric illnesses, or psychiatric disabilities.” The guidelines also suggest that diagnostic terms, such as psychotic and schizophrenic, be used only when medically and legally accurate, and should never be used out of context.

Research and Training Center on Independent Living. (2001). Guidelines for reporting and writing about people with disabilities (6th ed.). Lawrence, KS: University of Kansas.

American Psychological Association, (2001). Publication manual (5th ed.). Washington, DC.