*Content warning: This post mentions suicide

The language we use around mental health and mental illnesses can hold stigma and minimize the experiences of others.

Every one of us has mental health.

Our mental health can fluctuate and be good or not so good at times depending on several factors, including diagnosable mental illnesses

For example: people living with a mental illness can be in a place of good mental health and people can also struggle with mental health without a diagnosable mental illness.  



In any given year, 1 in 5 people in Canada will personally experience a mental health problem or illness.

By age 40, 1 in 2 people in Canada will have or have had a mental illness.  


The words and language we use are so important and can be a first step in reducing stigma. 

Certain language can minimize another person’s experience. Inclusive and recovery-oriented language language can make people feel heard and included. Using respectful, non-judgmental, and empowering words are supportive of individuals and their journeys.  

It is important to start paying attention to the things we say.

It’s also okay to make mistakes. 


Here are some tips on language to use and language to avoid:

Inclusive Language: 



Is person centred 

People with mental illness 

They are living with a mental health issue  

“They are living with addictions” 


They are mentally ill 

“They are an addict” 

Isn’t discriminatory or insulting 

They are not themselves 

They are experiencing hallucinations 


They are acting crazy; they are insane” 

They have lost their mind 

“They are psychotic” 

Doesn’t equate diagnosis with identity 

They have schizophrenia 

Their name is Jack” (no mention of their mental illness) 


They are schizophrenic 

They are bipolar 

Emphasizes abilities over limitations 

They are committed to psychotherapy 

She feels she can use her coping skills to manage the illness 


They refuse to take medication 

She is resisting additional treatment 

Doesn’t imply that people who recover are an anomaly 

They are moving along in their recovery journey 


They actually recovered from schizophrenia! 

Doesn’t sensationalize

They are living with anorexia 


They are a victim of their anorexia 

“They suffer from anorexia” 

Doesn’t equate suicide as a crime or as a success 

They died by suicide 

They attempted to take their own life 

They suicided 


They committed suicide 

They had a failed attempt at suicide 

They were successful at suicide 

Doesn’t minimize, stigmatize, or promote difference

I like order 

That frustrated me 


I’m really OCD about that  

That made me crazy 


A bit more about suicide 

When we are talking with someone about suicide, we can use non-judgmental language. 

Remember: asking someone if they have had thoughts of suicide does not “plant the seed” or increase an individual’s likelihood of suiciding.

If you notice someone’s behavior has changed, some non-judgmental questions to ask:

  • “are you having thoughts of killing yourself?”
  • “have you made any plans to die by suicide?”
  • “has your friend mentioned wanting to die?”

For more information and resources on suicide prevention, visit Centre for Suicide Prevention or 11 of Us.

If you are in distress, please call your local distress line or call Alberta Mental Health Helpline at 1-877-303-2642.

If you need referrals to mental health resources, call 2-1-1, text INFO to 211, or chat online at ab.211.ca. 




Sources: Mental Health Commission of Canada, jack.orgMental Health Coordinating Council. Canadian Mental Health Association – Edmonton Region and 211 Staff.