Letter to the Editor: The positive use of language


Dear Editor,

“Advocacy For” is the positive use of language to achieve positive goals. It is measured by the frequency of positive affirmations, the infrequency of negatives. As simple as that seems, recognizing the positives and the negatives in a society which confuses the two is often difficult.

The use of positives must be deliberate, constant, and consistent, for it takes many positives to overcome one single negative. Though it is a rule of “Advocacy For” to present the positive, sometimes negatives are so well established, focusing on them can bring them clearly to peoples’ consciousness.

In the simplest, most common of metaphors lie the most powerful negatives.

A First Primer of “Don’ts”:

  • Avoid the intransitive verbs “are” or “is” and thereby avoid the offensive labeling of people as “schizophrenics” or “a schizophrenic.”  Instead, use person-centered language and name the illness, such as “He/she has schizophrenia.”
  • Avoid the articles “the”, “a”, and thereby avoid “the” mentally ill, “a” depressive.   Use “person-centered” language, such as “people with bipolar disorder” or an “individual with depression.”
  • Avoid using adjectives that label people. Instead, use substantives, naming their conditions.
  • Avoid “mental illness”. Whenever you can use the fully informative, specific diagnosis.
  • Avoid “mental illness” in the singular. Use the plural, “mental illnesses ” as there are many.
  • Avoid “mental” illness. Whenever possible, use illness instead. They are illnesses.
  • Avoid the innuendo “stigma”, it victimizes. Use instead “prejudice” or “discrimination,” specifics which can be concretely addressed or redressed.
  • Avoid recounting “myths,” as they are repeated in folk cultures well known, instead inform and educate to truths.
  • Avoid what is “not” true, educate to truths.

    -Harold A. Maio

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