Wednesday, July 11, 2007


Hi Ed
I appreciate your insights and for sharing Jana’s e-mail. I have one comment about your response to her concerning appropriate language. Since I am currently writing a discussion guide to accompany a documentary by Susan Smiley on her mother’s schizophrenia (“Out of the Shadow”), I just completed a section for the chapter on Guidelines for Faith Leaders the importance of modeling appropriate language to help erase the stigma of mental illness. So I was sensitive to your comment in red below, although you later refer to “those of us with a mental illness.” Because so many of us are doing well on our medications, I also like to refer to “minister to and WITH those of us with a mental illness.” I agree with you both that we have a lot to contribute.
I’ve attached the section from my draft discussion guide below. You are welcome to share it with your e-mail group if you wish. Our website has many resources that Jana and others might find helpful in their ministry.
Take care and thanks for your insights.

Rev. Susan Gregg-Schroeder
Coordinator of Mental Health Ministries

Appropriate Language When Referring to Mental illness
Faith leaders have the opportunity, and responsibility, to model appropriate language when speaking about persons with a mental illness. The language we use can compound the stigma and misconceptions about mental illness or it can educate persons and help reduce the stigma and shame associated with these illnesses of the brain. We’ve all heard stigmatizing language from other people and from the media. Words like “crazy”, “psycho”, “looney”, “nuts” or other demeaning terms are not only hurtful, they are not accurate.
The language we use should reflect our belief in the dignity of each individual and that we are all created in the image and likeness of a loving God. It is important to use “people first language.” We need to refer to people as the person they are and not the illness they have. Instead of referring to people as “the mentally ill,” we need to say, “A person who has a mental illness.” Just as we don’t refer to someone as “the cancer person,” appropriate language helps to dispel misinformation mental illness.
Many persons living with a mental illness are very productive and have much to offer in all arenas of life. We often leave these persons out when speaking about “ministry to persons with a mental illness.” We can acknowledge the contribution of this group by saying, “ministry to and with persons with a mental illness.”
Millie has a diagnosis of schizophrenia. Schizophrenia is an illness that has symptoms of delusions and hearing voices. It is not having a split personality. There are also differences in the severity of mental illnesses. It is helpful to be more specific and use the terms “serious mental illness” or “major mental illness” to describe severe disorders.

Used by permission of Rev. Susan Gregg-Schroeder

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