Recently I’ve been involved in several conversations about people who were, well, treating other people terribly. In all cases the subjects of the conversations had long track records of this behavior and so it was not long before folks started letting the vitriol fly and saying the things many of us (myself included) are prone to saying in situations like this:
“She’s the worst”
“What a psycho!”
“She’s totally batshit insane!”
Here’s the thing though, using mental health related language to describe these people is problematic on so many levels.
- It’s ableist. It works off the idea that people with mental illness are less than the “normals” and this idea keeps the stigma around mental health issues going. This is why our friends and relatives have such a hard time telling us about their mental health issues – they so often hear about the horrible “crazy” people.
- It propagates the notion that bad people = mental health issues and that’s definitely not a given. Some people are just mean and many people dealing with mental health issues are perfectly pleasant. (ahem…)
- It’s a huge insult to me and my people. Every time we take a person who is behaving badly and announce “well, they’re mental” the wind goes out of me a little. Because, seriously, I don’t want to be lumped in with that.
- It’s actually dangerous. The longer we keep that image alive the longer men will keep dismissing the feelings of women¹ with “Meh, she’s just crazy!” and the longer the world at large will excuse white men² who shoot people with “I heard he had mental health issues” the longer we won’t look at issues like misogyny, racism, and the need to stricter gun control laws. We need to separate the strands of mental health and violence/cruelty/ inability to behave like a decent person.
- Finally, it’s just lazy. You are clearly phoning your insults in and reusing the same tired material everyone else has already used. It’s not edgy or interesting. Boo!! Try. Harder. Please.
So what am I proposing? Well you’d think I’d be saying something like “stop gossiping” but I know better. You’d think I’d be saying something like “be gentle with these people” but I know that these conversations often come about after many people have been hurt by someone and need some space to vent- I get that. Sometimes there are a lot of pent up feelings and it just takes one comment to serve as the…. catalyst, yeah let’s go with that, the catalyst for a massive (and extremely cathartic) group bitching session. I’m not saying that getting that release is wrong, what I’m proposing is that we find a way to do it better. Let’s challenge ourselves to vent without bringing mental health (or race, weight, sexual orientation, gender etc) into it. At the same time let’s build our vocabularies! Okay, here goes!
Words to use instead instead of “Crazy” and its friends
You have so many choices!
Often we start saying these things when someone does or says things that don’t make sense to us or that are just plain untrue or unreasonable. So, instead of defaulting to “crazy” let’s try harder, sound smarter and use of these fun words to describe the things this person is saying or the actions they are taking!
Unreasonable, illogical, unfounded, unjustifiable, irrational, erroneous, invalid, spurious, faulty, flawed, fallacious, specious, sophistic, casuistic, absurd, preposterous, untenable
Fun, right?! So, what if you just want to describe them as a person? Good question. You have even more fun options and you get to sound really cool when you say them. Seriously some of these make me want to use a long thin cigarette holder while I say things like “Darling, she’s just ghastly!”
Disrespectful, inappropriate, cruel, difficult, problematic, disagreeable, unpleasant, horrific, appalling, despicable, nasty, horrid, detestable, awful, dreadful, terrible, horrendous, foul, repulsive, repugnant, repellent, ghastly, vicious, sadistic, wicked, evil, fiendish, diabolical, ferocious, violent, dangerous, ruthless, remorseless, merciless, heartless, callous, harsh, cold-blooded, inhumane.
Now, I will admit, the world of straight-up name-calling leaves something to be desired here. Even the names that aren’t ableist tend to come with some sort of negative connotation whether it be racist, misogynistic, classist, homophobic, transphobic, body shaming or what have you- there’s usually something. (I actually have a whole rant on “cocksucker” that’s been in my drafts folder for 2 years) so name calling gets challenging. Also, I’m picky. There are a couple of things left but I just don’t like them. So, again I encourage you to try harder, be original. In fact if you could come up with some awesome things to call people who are behaving badly that don’t have horrible etymologies I’d really appreciate it.
So, when you are talking shit, look at the shit you are saying. Don’t keep spewing the same old shit people have been spewing forever because it’s easy. The next time you feel a rant coming on catch yourself before you pull the “crazy” trigger. Not because it’s “politically correct” but because it’s actually correct. Not because people will make you feel bad but because you’re being lazy. Not because you should be taking it easy on the person who you are angry at but because you should be trying harder to insult them better.
The stigma around mental health keeps so many people from getting the help they need. This is a small thing you can do to help end that stigma. And if that didn’t convince you, just remember I’m helping you up your insult game here ?
¹Yeah, it seems we default to this way more with women. That’s some bullshit right there.
²That seems to be the most common scenario in which we talk about men and mental health – to explain their acts of violence and, mysteriously, folks seem way more willing to talk about the depression or other mental health issues of a white gunman… go figure.