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Mental Health, Trauma, and Substance Use


Trigger refers to a stimulus that leads to a strong reminder of a past trauma, such as a smell, sight, or sound. The word “triggered” is sometimes misused as a synonym for “offended” or “upset.” Using the term this way can diminish the very real pain that people with psychiatric conditions feel when their symptoms are set off.

victim (mental health and trauma)

The term victim is used to refer to a person who has experienced bullying, harassment, abuse, attacks, or aggression from another person or institution. While some individuals may self-identify with this term, others may not. Taking into account the person’s preferred terminology whenever possible aligns your framing with their lived experience.


Withdrawal refers to the physical, mental, and emotional effects of stopping substance use. It typically occurs after chronic usage at high doses. Casual terms like “dope sickness” or “going cold turkey” can minimize the distress of withdrawal.

Last updated 08/05/22

Mental health can be hard to talk about for people in their everyday lives, so it’s not surprising that reporting on the issue comes with its own challenges. Until relatively recently, in many circles, discussion of mental health issues was considered taboo, and terms that refer to clinical diagnoses were often used in flippant ways to describe perceptions of traits rather than actual medical conditions. Though we’ve come a long way, there’s plenty of evidence that stereotypes and myths related to mental health issues have stubbornly clung to the public consciousness. 

This section of the Language, Please style guidance helps journalists recognize and avoid those stereotypes and other common pitfalls in reporting and to understand key mental health subjects in a nuanced way.

This resource was informed by questions and discussions from our own newsrooms. It is a living document that will update and expand over time. It is not meant to be comprehensive or the definitive arbiter of language “rules” but instead aims to give context and inform thoughtful decision-making. Have a suggestion for an update, change, or addition? Please get in touch.

How to use: Browse the whole section or search for the term you need guidance on; click into any term for in-depth context, additional resources, and related terms. 

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