By Diane Engster – The Trouble with Judgmental Mental Health Words, Part 1 of 2

Mental Health Words:  "SMI"

Mental Health Words: "SMI"

Judgmental mental health words, like “high functioning” prejudice care givers and prevent recovery when people believe and internalize them.

Stop using mental health words like “SMI” (severely mentally ill) or “high-functioning” or “low-functioning.” Sitting in judgment of others is not part of your job description. You can hardly give hope if you hold others in such low regard.

If you’re too busy passing judgment on others, applying mental health words, you won’t have time to engage them and find out their hopes and dreams and what happened to them to shatter those hopes and dreams.

If you want to help motivate someone, help them through the hurt and the pain so they can again hope and return to a path of their own choosing.

When Peers Use Mental Health Words

I really don’t understand why some people would want to work at peer-run support centers, given some of the judgmental mental health words they use. Many consumers feel labels like low-functioning and high-functioning are offensive.

I don’t understand how using these mental health words helps anyone.  How does one determine whether someone is low-functioning or not?

I would be very upset and discouraged if someone, especially a peer, and especially at a drop-in center, labeled me this way, especially without getting to know me, my circumstances, my medical problems, etc.

It would also be very hurtful to me if I felt that staff, or a volunteer, were paying attention and willing to help some participants who seemed “high-functioning” but not to me because I’m “low-functioning”.

I think it might be better for some drop-in center employees to work with people, who are at a place in their lives (“functioning level”) they feel comfortable with.  There are lots of people who would very much like to have a person in that position as a mentor or volunteer peer.

The Proper Role of Drop-In Centers

Peer Support

Peer Support

Drop-in centers are not for everyone.  They serve a particular purpose for people in particular circumstances.

They are usually a low-barrier, low-demand environment. They are often there to provide people’s basic necessities, a place to be, instead of walking the street all day in all kinds of inclement weather.

They are often seen as a beginning step to meet a person’s needs, not necessarily to work on recovery.

At the center I helped start, I felt it was enough of a service to treat people like they were welcomed to a place were they had food, shelter during the day, showers, bathrooms, laundry facilities, friends, encouragement to get better, someone to talk to, someone to listen to them, some recreational activities, and referrals to other resources.

One of the difficulties of using that dualistic either/or judgmental mental health words is that they assume that how people are at one moment is how they are going to be forever.

That’s sure not true for me.

How have mental health words helped or hurt you?










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