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What Is Psychiatric Name Calling and How Do We Stop It?

Crazy. Pyscho. Lunatic. Disturbed. Nuts. Looney. These are all words we hear and use for any number of reasons. Sometimes we wield them as barbs to hurt people. In other cases we use them to label events, people or situations we don’t understand.  Or we use those terms as a derogatory way to characterize people with a mental health condition. But, for the most part, a lot of these words are used pretty flippantly and without much regard. “There’s something wrong with her. She must be nuts.” “I can’t believe he did that! What a psycho.” “I need to go to the pharmacy to pick up my crazy pills.” That last example is something I’ve actually said before. That is until I realized I was adding to the stigma of mental health. And it was this realization that led me to explore the usage of words like nuts and crazy. For the most part, we’re using them to name call. Name calling, by definition, is the use of offensive names especially to win an argument or to induce rejection or condemnation (as of a person or project) without objective consideration of the facts. Dig down deeper, and when we use terms tied to mental health in a negative way, we’re literally engaging in psychiatric name calling. We are using these words as a misguided way to describe people that are violent, immoral, or simply don’t fit the confines of normal society Tying these terms to emotionally negative situations or people does not help the stigma. It only helps to perpetuate the stereotype that something is inherently wrong with people that have a mental health condition. Psychiatric name calling is so unhelpful to the conversation about mental health, that I truly believe it creates a major barrier for people who do want to or need to seek mental health help.

Why do we do this?

I think society resorts to psychiatric name calling for two reasons. The first has to do with lack of factual information about the subject. If you don’t truly know anything about mental health conditions, you wouldn’t know that 1 in 5 adults will be diagnosed with a mental health condition in the next year. You also wouldn’t know that a mental health condition isn’t a sign of laziness or failure of character; it’s a very real and complex illness that does not discriminate in who it affects. If we don’t know much about mental illness, then where are we getting our information from? I would argue that most likely, we’re getting it from the news, tv shows and film. This is reason number two many people don’t think twice about psychiatric name calling. This negative conversation about mental health begins at a very early age.  To get a little scientific, a 2003 study on the portrayal of mental health in children’s films found that 67 percent of films that depicted characters with a mental health condition, portrayed that character as violent. If they weren’t portrayed as violent, the mentally ill characters were also often feared and ridiculed in those films as well. When looking at shows for adults, you don’t have to look any further for an unhinged mentally ill character than Suzanne Warren in Orange is the New Black. Don’t remember her? You might know the character better by the name Crazy Eyes.

What can we do about it?

Unfortunately, the psychiatric name calling isn’t going to go away overnight. But there are a couple things we can do to right now to combat it. The first is personal accountability. This is something that I do myself. No longer do I call my medication my “crazy pills”. When I fail to understand a person’s behavior or thought process, I search for adjectives that don’t use mental health terms in a negative sense. It’s difficult, and sometimes it takes a while to find the right word, but I’m training my brain to NOT resort to psychiatric name calling. Another thing we can do is educate and spread awareness of mental health conditions. When we share the truth of what it is like to have depression, anxiety, or PTSD we’re flipping the script and normalizing mental health conditions. This is why I’m such an advocate of sharing my journey and why I’m so thankful for others out there that are being vulnerable and entrusting their stories with Still I Run. We’re taking that stigmatized narrative that’s been placed us on and we’re replacing it with something real! Together, we can do this. Together we can take control of the conversation and reveal a more positive and normal view of mental health. And maybe someday, people will no longer resort to using crazy, nuts, or deranged as derogatory words to harm others.


By Sasha Wolff

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