Island Health teams and people with lived experience develop respectful language guide

Tracey Thompson holds the new respectful language guide that addresses stigma experienced by people who use drugs

A new language guide is available to help address stigma experienced by people with substance dependency. The guide provides words and tools to foster positive connections between health-care providers, families and people seeking health care. People with lived experience, and Island Health’s acute care and harm reduction staff came together to develop the guide.

"People with lived experience are bearing the brunt of the drug poisoning crisis, which has been deepened by the pandemic,” said Tracey Thompson, Regional Harm Reduction Coordinator, Island Health. "Health-care providers are on the forefront of the crisis, and what they say and do matters. Language can create safety, encourage connection, and reduce stigma."

When people come to the hospital, it is often one of the worst days of their life. Racism and stigma towards people needing care can negatively influence the way people behave and engage with health care. Care providers play an important role in understanding people’s needs and treating every encounter as a new opportunity.  

“This guide needs to be posted on every staff and physician lounge,” said Dr. Jason Wale, former Medical Director of Emergency Care at Island Health. “As an emergency room doctor, I know that language sets the tone for interactions with our patients. Kindness and empathy go a long way in making people feel safe and ready to engage in care.”

“I am honoured to contribute to the respectful language guide,” said Beth Haywood, member of PEEP provincial peer working group. “I’ve heard people say they’d rather die than go to the hospital, because of the discrimination they experienced in the past. We're human. We're not bad people, we're people who have lived through some bad circumstances.”