Tuesday 25 February 2014

When words matter

So yesterday evening I had my first (very mild, very brief)
Twitter spat.

I commented on another user's comment that Ben Goldacre should not have used the word "mad" to describe a radio recording, claiming it would only serve to increase "prejudice".  Hmm.  I'm not a linguist or anything, but I just reckoned that this word has lots of common uses other than referring to the mentally ill.  Given that Mr Goldacre is a respected journalist, an exposer of scientific bias and general skulduggery, I assumed he would not have meant to offend.  After all, I can be "mad" at my husband for not taking the bins out.  The girl can be "mad" about the boy.  Similarly, someone can be "insanely" jealous.  Or "crazy" in love.

My point is - for the mental health community (whatever that is!) to be a credible force I don't think we should take ourselves too seriously.  And I don't think we should suddenly exert sole ownership rights over commonly used words.  Instead, let's get angry about the really offensive language out there:
"OMG you are being such a mental patient!!"
"Is someone feeling a little bit postnatal today?"
"You look like a psychopath in that outfit"
"This weather is being sooooo bipolar".

Using actual diagnoses and situations in this way, well that I do find offensive.  It happens too often, and usually the person it offends is forced to keep quiet about it, lest they are "outed".  The more we tolerate this sloppy and insulting use of language, the more it persists.

We stopped using the word "spastic" as an insult a long time ago.  Now let's send "schizo", "psycho", "bipolar" and the rest the same way.

An out and proud mental patient.


  1. I'm sometimes mentally ill (luckily, few people are ill all the time) and will comfortably use the word "mad" to describe my state at those times - I'm too old to be in practice at using "mad" to mean "angry" or just "a bit annoyed/ cross"; it still sounds odd in British English to me, as if it should come with an American accent; that's one of the continuous changes that happens in language but which doesn't affect the underlying meaning at all.
    Can stopping the common use of a word/ phrase ever make people think differently, or do the same kinds of prejudice persist with different words? As a child in the 1970s I heard "paki" fairly often but people with the same attitudes now mostly substitute "muslim" or have moved on to blaming Romanians & Poles for all the country's ills - doesn't seem like much progress to me.
    There are words that I don't like & will ask people not to use, but I honestly don't think I'm changing anyone's attitudes unless I have both plenty time & someone willing to discuss why they use those words/ why I recommend they desist..