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Talking about NSSI

The language we use to talk about people and the behaviours they engage in is powerful. Language is the medium we use to communicate our understanding of the world, to establish social structures, define cultures, and establish meaning to phenomena and people. Language shapes the way we view the world and our place in it. The language that is commonly used when talking about NSSI and people with lived experience of NSSI is often derogatory, can perpetuate myths and foster stigma, and can make people with lived experience feel even more misunderstood and isolated.

Conversely, adopting a ‘respectful curiosity’ and being conscious of using respectful language can opened the way for helpful conversations and encourage support seeking.


Take home points:

  • Always be respectful when talking about NSSI, or people with a lived experience of NSSI

  • Poorly-considered language can exacerbate stigma among people who already feel highly stigmatised

  • Avoid language that defines a person by their behaviour (e.g., “cutter”; “self-injurer”)

  • Avoid language that is value-laden (e.g., good/bad), or propagates stigma (e.g., attention-seeking)

  • Use of appropriate language can foster open communication and facilitate support-seeking

Check out specific guidelines for members of the media in reporting on and writing about NSSI.

Recommended reading:

"I cut therefore I am? Avoiding labels in the context of self-injury" - Stephen Lewis (2017)

"When language is maladaptive: Recommendations for discussing self-injury" - Penny Hasking, Stephen Lewis, & Mark Boyes (2019)

"Cutting words: A commentary on language and stigma in the context of non-suicidal self-injury" - Penny Hasking & Mark Boyes (2018)

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