Is Suffers From Ever Appropriate When Talking About Disability?

Anonymous asks, quote:

I teach a university level disability studies class and am constantly correcting language in papers I grade. A particular phrase I have trouble with is suffers from disability. It seems black and white that, when discussing most disabilities, suffers from is completely inappropriate. However, I struggle to enforce this rule when my students are writing about mental health. I have an eating disorder and literally feel I suffer daily from the impact on my life. Do you think that suffers from is ever an appropriate phrase to use when talking about mental illness or disability?

end quote.

I consider suffers from to be first-person or internal language and has, was diagnosed with, experiences, etc., to be third-person or external language. If your students are talking about a condition they themselves have (depression, anxiety, spina bifida, etc.,), suffer from could be an appropriate description depending on how they feel about it. If they’re talking about a condition someone else has, more external wording is appropriate:

She experiences terrible migraines.

I suffer from terrible migraines

IHe was diagnosed with cerebral palsy at a young age.

I suffer from cerebral palsy.

However, when talking about a condition that is inherently temporary/some kind of injury, suffered is appropriate:

He suffered a concussion.

The children are suffering from the measles.

They suffered through their aunt explaining how olive oil can cure cancer.

If you need to give a hard and fast rule to your students, I would instruct them to avoid and stick to the less problematic third‐person(ish) phrases.

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