Date of Completion


Document Type

Honors College Thesis


Department of Psychological Science

Thesis Type

Honors College, College of Arts and Science Honors

First Advisor

Dr. Laura Lewis

Second Advisor

Dr. Nicole Breslend


person-first language, identity-first language, anxiety, depression, mental health, disability studies


The contention between whether to use person-first language (i.e., “person with X”) or identity-first language (i.e., “X person”) to describe individuals with disabilities has been primarily investigated within the field of special education, but it has not been well explored in relation to mental health. Subsequently, there is a limited amount of information about what terms are preferred to describe mental disorders by individuals who are living with those conditions. This exploratory quantitative study employed an online survey to explore levels of preference for and offensiveness of terms used to describe anxiety, depression, and mental health between 125 participants with varying relationships to these conditions (i.e., have a diagnosis themselves or are a friend, family member, or clinician to someone with a mental disorder). Findings indicate that the most preferred diagnostic labels amongst both individuals with and without anxiety/depression were “Anxiety,” “Depression,” and “Mental Health Condition” while the most offensive diagnostic labels were “Neurotic Disorder,” “Sad, Empty, or Irritable Mood,” and “Emotional Disturbance.” Additionally, the most preferred labelling structure amongst both individuals with and without anxiety/depression was person-first language while the most offensive labelling structure was identity-first language. Considering that diagnostic terminology and labelling structures can have implications on how an individual perceives themselves and is perceived by others, it is important to utilize language that reflects community preferences. The data collected from this study can help inform guidelines for how to describe individuals with anxiety and depression within spoken and written discourse in a sensitive and respectful manner.


The full contents of this thesis are available only in the Honors College office.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.

Available for download on Sunday, December 15, 2024