Even subtle differences in how an individual refers to people with mental illness can affect their attitudes towards such people, says a new study.
The study conducted by researchers at the Ohio State University found that individuals showed less tolerance toward people who are referred to as the 'mentally ill'when compared to those referred to as 'people with mental illness'.
‘The stigma attached to mental illness owes itself to all kinds of factors including the very language used to talk about it.’
The study involved three groups of people - 221 undergraduate students, 211 non-student adults and 269 professional counselors. The participants were given Community Attitudes Toward the Mentally Ill (CAMI) -- a 40-item survey designed to measure people's attitudes toward people with diagnosable mental illness.
The participants were more likely to agree with the statement 'the mentally ill should be isolated from the community' than the similar statement 'people with mental illnesses should be isolated from the community'.
"The language we use has real effects on our levels of tolerance for people with mental illness," said Darcy Haag Granello, professor at Ohio State University.
"Everyone - including the media, policymakers and the general public - need to change how they refer to people with mental illness," he added.
"When you say 'people with a mental illness,' you are emphasizing that they aren't defined solely by their disability. But when you talk about 'the mentally ill' the disability is the entire definition of the person," said Todd Gibbs, graduate student at the Ohio State University.
The effort to change how most of the people refer to people with mental illness began in the 1990s. Many professional publications proposed the use of 'person-first' when referring people with disabilities or chronic conditions. Person-first language is a way to honor the personhood of an individual by separating their identity from any disability or diagnosis they might have.
The language choice should not be viewed just as an issue of "political correctness," revealed the study published in the Journal of Counseling and Development.