Public Health - Language and terminology guide

This guide aims to give a consistent guide for use of certain terminology and language we commonly use within the Public Health Suffolk team. The aim is to improve consistency when we are writing reports and speaking about health and wellbeing.

Where a particular term has been used, an explanation as to why this term has been chosen is included. 

The guide was built from input given by the whole Public Health Suffolk team, and reviewed by colleagues at Healthwatch Suffolk. 

This is not an all-encompassing document, and it is envisioned this list will be added to and amended over time, as language and terminology evolves.

We would like your feedback and suggestions. Please email

Writing our reports

When writing any public health report we will think about:  

  • Whether we need to use the acronym
  • Whether we can simplify the language used
  • If we were reading the information for the first time would it make sense?
  • We will use the online guide to writing and publishing for the web

Table showing some of the language terms we use and why

Term we will use

Instead of 

Why we are using this term

Ethnic minorities

Use capital letters when referring to ethnic groups, for example, “In comparison, Black staff felt...”

Spell out acronyms if you really need to use them


BAME or BME people

‘Non-White’ or ‘Non-Black’ 

A continually evolving area. Have a look at a 2018 BBC media release and a recent Civil Service blog.  

Do not forget that ethnic minorities include White minorities .

On the Ethnicity facts and figures website, they use the term ‘ethnic minorities’. They also make sure they always use capital letters when writing about individual ethnic groups. Ethnicity is not a colour palette. It is a technical term used in the Census, as well as an important part of an individual’s identity. 

Most people rightly recognise that using a lower-case ‘i’ for Indian or ‘b’ for Bangladeshi is wrong, so why wouldn’t we use ‘W’ for White and ‘B’ for Black ethnic groups? For those looking for more information, there is a short guide on how we write about ethnicity.

Behaviour that challenges services Challenging behaviour

When someone acts in a way that could hurt themselves or someone else. More information can be found on the NHS website

Death by suicide Committed suicide To remove the inference of suicide being a criminal act. The Samaritans website contains more information. 
A person with addiction or substance use disorder

Drug abuser



Substance misuse disorders are heavily stigmatised. Read more on the ‘Addictionary’  website. 

Co-existing mental health and substance misuse problems Dual diagnosis

Dual diagnosis term is used widely but inconsistently. Find out more about this terminology.  

The term dual diagnosis can also refer to an individual experiencing co-existing mental ill health and learning disabilities- so definitions and explanations need to be clear.
Seldom heard  Hard to reach 

Moves the onus from the individual / population to the service to engage rather than blaming the population / individual.  Read more on the Consultation Institute website.

Indices of Deprivation (IoD) Indices of Multiple Deprivation (IMD) (Where appropriate – see explanation)

To be consistent with Government terminology for the new release of the Indices of Deprivation. Continue to use IMD if you are referring specifically to the IMD dataset within the IoD release.

Health behaviours  Lifestyle

The use of lifestyle frames public health at an individual level. View more information on the Association for the Directors of Public Health website. 

Mental ill health

(People experiencing) mental illness

Mental health condition
Mental health problem or mental health issue

Acknowledge the person first, and that mental illness is a condition that may need medical intervention more terminology on the mental health foundation website. 

There will be no single phrase that can suit everyone or every circumstance, but be mindful of the terminology here.
People with obesity  Obese people To reduce stigma and that obesity is a choice (for example for those on medications that cause weight gain).  Read more on the BBC website
Ethnicity Race

Research by the Office for National Statistics found that race was considered a less acceptable term by respondents.

Recurrence Relapse

Substance misuse disorders are heavily stigmatised. Read more on the ‘Addictionary’  website. 

People aged...

The over 64s, over 18s, 65+

People are more than their age. But also be clear about the cohort you are referring to – i.e. ‘People aged 65 and over’ is clear, the over 64s – does this mean everyone 65 and over, or everyone over 64 years and 1 day.
Substance use Substance misuse

Substance misuse disorders are heavily stigmatised. Read more on the ‘Addictionary’  website. 

Polydrug use Using two or more types of substances/ drugs

Polydrug use is the use of more than one drug, often with the intention of enhancing or countering the effects of another drug, it is important that this is recognised when writing about substance use. The DrugWise website provides useful information

Wellbeing Well-being Simplify and remove the hyphen 
Language used about sexual orientation and gender identity N/A

This is a continually developing area, with many terms used to describe gender identity and/ or sexual orientation.

Please refer to the Stonewall website, and this helpful guide from the University and College Union,  for more information and a glossary of terms to consider when compiling reports and information.

Inclusive language: words to use and avoid when writing about disability N/A

Not everyone will agree on everything but there is general agreement on some basic guidelines. The word ‘disabled’ is a description not a group of people. Use ‘disabled people’ not ‘the disabled’ as the collective term.

Avoid medical labels. They say little about people as individuals and tend to reinforce stereotypes of disabled people as ‘patients’ or unwell.

Don’t automatically refer to ‘disabled people’ in all communications – many people who need disability benefits and services don’t identify with this term. Consider using ‘people with health conditions or impairments’ if it seems more appropriate.

Read the full government guide



Public Health uses a lot of acronyms. Where possible we will avoid doing this.  The list below provides some of the commonly used acronyms you may see in our documents. 

  • ACS – Adult and Community Services
  • APHR – Annual Public Health Report
  • ASC – Adult Social Care
  • CSP – Community Safety Partnership
  • CYP – Children and Young People
  • ESNEFT – East Suffolk and North East Essex NHS Foundation Trust
  • HOSC- Health Scrutiny Committee
  • HS – Healthy Suffolk
  • HWB – Health and Wellbeing Board
  • HWS- Healthwatch Suffolk
  • ICS - Integrated Care System
  • INT - Integrated Neighbourhood Team (also known as Connect areas)
  • JHWS – Joint Health and Wellbeing Strategy
  • JSNA – Joint Strategic Needs Assessment
  • LSOA – Lower (layer) Super Output Area
  • MSOA – Middle (layer) Super Output Area
  • PBNA – Place based needs assessment
  • PCN – Primary Care Network
  • PH – Public Health
  • PHE – Public Health England
  • PHS – Public Health Suffolk
  • PHOF – Public Health Outcomes Framework
  • PNA - Pharmaceutical Needs Assessment
  • QOF – Quality and Outcomes Framework
  • RGS – Recovery Grant Scheme
  • SCC – Suffolk County Council
  • SH – Sexual Health
  • SO – Suffolk Observatory
  • SOAP – Suffolk on a page
  • SODA – Suffolk Office of Data and Analytics
  • SoS / SOS – State of Suffolk
  • STP – Sustainability and Transformation Partnership

Other useful links