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

Examples of the words and phrases we use and why

A person with addiction or substance use disorder (term we will use)

We will use this instead of: drug abuser, alcoholic, addict.  


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

Behaviour that challenges services (term we will use)

Use for "challenging behaviour".


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

Co-existing mental health and substance misuse problems (term we will use)

We will use this for dual diagnosis.


Dual diagnosis 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.

Death by suicide (term we will use)

Use for "committed suicide".


To remove the inference of suicide being a criminal act. The Samaritans website contains more information. 

Ethnic minorities (term we will use)

We will use this instead of: BAME, BME people, ‘Non-White’, ‘Non-Black’. 

  • 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.


  • 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.

Ethnicity (term we will use)

We will use this for race.


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

Health behaviours (term we will use)

We will use this for 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.

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

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.

Indices of Deprivation (IoD) (term we will use)

We will use this for Indices of Multiple Deprivation (IMD) where appropriate.


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.

Mental ill health, (People experiencing) mental illness, or Mental health condition (terms we will use)

We will use this for mental health problem or mental health issue


Acknowledge the person first, and that mental illness is a condition that may need medical intervention.

More language is 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 aged..." (term we will use)

We will use this for "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.

People with obesity (term we will use)

We will use this for "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

Polydrug use (term we will use)

We will use this for "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

Recurrence (term we will use)

We will use this for relapse.


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

Seldom heard  (term we will use)

We will use this for "hard to reach".


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

Sexual orientation and gender identity 

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.

Substance use (term we will use)

We will use this for substance misuse.


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

Wellbeing (term we will use)

We will use this for well-being.


To be consistent, and to simplify and remove the hyphen


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

Common tags
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