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Visions Journal

A reminder that this article from our magazine Visions was published more than 1 year ago. It is here for reference only. Some information in it may no longer be current. It also represents the point of the view of the author only. See the author box at the bottom of the article for more about the contributor.

Editor's Message

Sarah Hamid-Balma

Reprinted from the "The Language We Use" issue of Visions Journal, 2018, 14 (1), p. 4

My kids first saw the word ‘crazy’ in a book when they were around four. We’ve since had interesting talks about the words ‘crazy,’ ‘fat,’ and ‘drunk.’ All loaded words, for sure. It might be easy to dismiss this Visions as one about political correctedness; it’s not. It’s about exploring some of the ways prejudice and power are created, communicated and reinforced. How we talk about mental health and substance matters. Being clear, precise, compassionate and person-centred matters. Language defines, frames, clarifies or clouds, includes or excludes. It also changes. When I first started in this field two decades ago, the phrases I heard most were “drug abuse/misuse,” “[the] mentally ill” and “consumers/survivors.” Yet I don’t use (and only rarely see) those terms today.

Because language matters, it’s a good time for us to point out that...drumroll...Visions has changed its name. You’ll see we have changed the word ‘addictions’ to ‘substance use’ in our magazine’s subtitle (and also in the name of the BC Partners group that puts out Visions). Why? Addiction is a tricky word to use (see page 8!) but it also represents a very small slice of the spectrum of behaviour we’ve always covered in Visions. So it’s time our name finally caught up.

Three final notes. First: This doesn’t happen often but you may notice we don’t actually have any lived experiences from men or from cultural minorities in this issue. This is unfortunate but not deliberate. Please contact me at to get your story heard in a letter to the editor or a future article. Second: my clustering of articles into sections is more arbitrary than usual. Every Experience article suggests solutions and every Approaches article gives a unique experiential perspective. Third: I would like to thank Karen Ward, a drug-policy advocate and activist in Vancouver. She was one of the two guest editors we had for this issue, but she ended up unable to contribute an editorial. At our brainstorm meeting though, she was passionate about the links between language, power, identity, and justice. Case in point: she has remarked in the news that it’s time we stop calling deaths from fentanyl the “overdose crisis.” The “poisoning crisis” would better reflect that it’s not something users have control over.1 Thank you, Karen, for reminding us to think about the impacts of our word choices on real people. In the end, that’s the only language test that matters.

About the author

Sarah is Visions Editor and Director of Mental Health Promotion at the Canadian Mental Health Association’s BC Division

  1. Woo, A. (2018, January 9). Report highlights the need to clean the conversation around drug use. The Globe and Mail.

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