Sonoma County Maternal Child and Adolescent Health

Thoughts become words - words become the language we use on each other

I have been hearing and reading a lot lately about language and racial equity. There are many opinions out there about what happens when you change language, is it just "symbolic"? Or even a risk for "diluting the meaning" behind the words? Read more about equity language in this TIMES article.

Scientific research shows that the words we use do matter-

because they affect our brain chemistry.

Click to Read: People's words and actions can actually shape your brain

When we interact with persons who have behavioral health challenges, including substance use disorder, the words we use can be critical

In support of healing - or hindering healing.

Recovery-Oriented Language

Clinical Terms - Recovery Language

Decompensated - Not doing well

Manipulative - Getting needs met, strategic

Non-Compliant - Doesn’t want to

High functioning - Doing well

Low functioning - Having difficulty

He’s a schizophrenic - He’s a person with schizophrenia

Mentally ill - Has a mental health challenge, has lived mental health experience 


Unmotivated - Doesn’t want to

Client, patient - Name, person I work with

Chronic - In recovery 


Delusional - Sees or hears things that others don’t                        

Kate Roberge from West County Services spoke during the November Mental Health Board Meeting. She described the words that hurt and the words that help to heal like this:

What is Recovery-oriented language?

Mental health recovery philosophy and practice (the Recovery Model) intentionally uses language that builds on people’s strengths and embodies a belief that every person with mental health challenges deserves to be treated with dignity and equality.


Traditional clinical, impersonal, or “medical model” language is impersonal, and has an inherent one up, one down-ness that is judgmental and stigmatizing, It creates a very large power differential with psychiatrists and clinicians in a role of superiority. “I’m the doctor and you're not.” 

NIH: Your Words Matter

How stigma can negatively affect mothers and pregnant persons

"Person-first language maintains the integrity of individuals as whole human beings by removing language that equates people to their condition or has negative connotations. For example, 'Person with a substance use disorder' has a neutral tone and distinguishes the person from his or her diagnosis."

Learn about how Your Words Matter- Language Showing Compassion and Care for Women, Infants, Families, and Communities impacted by Substance Use Disorder:

Click the Link Below to take the training and earn a free CE

Women With Substance Use Disorder are Less Likely to:

Seek Treatment for SUD

Get Prenatal Care

Breastfeed Their Babies

Take the Training

Sonoma County Maternal Child and Adolescent Health