What is person-first language and why is it important?

Person-first (or person-centered) language refers to choosing and using words that recognize and refer to individuals – first and foremost – as people. This demonstrates respect for each person’s basic humanity. It emphasizes their unique traits, strengths, and worth. Compassionate, stigma-free, person-centered words play a role in helping each person on their road to recovery from SMI. People often identify with roles and words that help them find meaning. So when you choose person-first language, you support their pursuit of healing, progress, and goals. Conversely, person-first language mandates that you avoid words that create stigma. This includes words that link a person to their symptoms, illness(es), or condition(s). An example of this would be to describe someone as a “schizophrenic,” “frequent flyer,” “non-compliant client,” or “bipolar.” A person-first alternative is “an individual living with schizophrenia.” Evidence supports that the use of person-first language has positive impacts on health outcomes and recovery.



Crocker, A.F., Smith, S.N. (2019). Person-first language: are we practicing what we preach? J Multidiscip Healthc. 2019; 12: 125–129. doi: 10.2147/JMDH.S140067.

Mental Health America (MHA): Person-Centered Language 

Minnesota Center for Chemical and Mental Health: Clinical Tip on Person-Centered Language

National Alliance for Mental Illness (NAMI): Language Used in the Public Policy Platform

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