Words matter: How do we change attitudes towards mental health?
July 10, 2017 at 11:53 am #29153
Mental Health ColoradoKeymaster
“Crazy Mika” Brzezinski and “Psycho Joe” Scarborough weren’t the president’s first targets. Chances are, they won’t be the last.
Donald Trump rode to the White House, in part, by disparaging his opponents as “a wacko,” “a basket case,” “a nut job,” and “insane.” He has used similar phrases to describe his predecessor, other heads of state, and the former director of the FBI.
The president may be the most prominent culprit, but he’s hardly the only one. Such insults litter our language every day.
In that sense, Mr. Trump’s attacks illustrate a larger problem — one that preceded his presidency and will undoubtedly outlast it. These slurs not only poison public discourse; they also trivialize mental illness.
We don’t call people we disagree with “cancer-stricken” or “diabetic.” We reserve those terms for medical conditions.
Unfortunately, mental illness doesn’t command the same respect. Unlike most diseases, mental health and substance use disorders often elicit ridicule and discrimination.
That’s one of the reasons so many people who experience such disorders don’t seek help. A state survey shows that nearly 30 percent of Coloradans who did not get the mental health care they needed “were concerned about what would happen if someone found out.” More than 40 percent said they “did not feel comfortable talking about personal problems,” even with a health professional.
How do we change our words, our attitudes, our behavior? Share your suggestions with us.
There’s plainly a problem here. The responsibility for solving it lies not just with the president but with all of us.
July 10, 2017 at 2:36 pm #29157
I can see that you are making two major points here. First you criticize the current occupant of the White House for his incessant use of name-calling, especially when he makes negative use of words suggesting mental illness by applying them to people who are most likely not mentally ill. Then you comment on the proliferation of such disparaging words by the general public. I agree wholeheartedly with both points, but I want to go on to say that the two are closely related and the second has grown noticeably worse since “Agent Orange” came into political prominence, even before the election. His use of words that cast such a shadow on mental health as a condition has seemingly legitimized such terms among his followers for the wrong purpose. At the same time, he clearly demonstrates that he himself is mentally ill, making him unfit for the presidency.
July 10, 2017 at 3:53 pm #29158
We change our attitudes when we change our words. By addressing the subject of mental illness with words such as persons or person with mental illness rather than the mentally ill begins to personify rather than categorize. It is much the same when we address the issue of homelessness as persons without homes rather than homeless persons.
July 10, 2017 at 4:01 pm #29159
I can’t say that I disagree with you, sdahl, but it seems to me to be a rather fine point and a matter of semantics. I meant no harm with my wording, which I think is far less offensive that what comes out of the White House every day. Tip-toeing around certain words can be a minefield of its own. I am reminded of a young woman whose wedding I sang at, in which she married the twin brother of my friend. She is blind, and he had other disabilities, and they decided to share their lives and support one another. Some time after the wedding, I visited them at their apartment, and used what I thought were appropriate and compassionate words, but she took offense. It left me unsure how to converse with her, because she had her own ideas about how she wanted to be addressed. Every person with any kind of disability has a particular idea of what people should or should not say to them.
July 11, 2017 at 7:12 am #29165
I have been struggling with this issue as of late. A co-worker uses these ‘slang’ words in social situations. I started walking away to avoid confrontation but I’ve come to believe my silence is just as bad as acceptance. How can we speak up? Why shouldn’t we just say we are not comfortable with those words? We spend so much time trying to be nice, we allow this bad behavior to permeate our society. Change only happens when we are part of the solution! It starts with me!!
July 11, 2017 at 10:22 am #29166
Thanks for your comment, Kmwhit39. Most of us, whether handicapped or not, want to do and say the right things, but sometimes we say the wrong thing without meaning any harm. I think the answer is education, and that will be achieved only if persons with any kind of handicap make it known to everyone else how they would like to be addressed. Even that is a less than perfect solution, as there are so many different kinds of disabilities, and so many things that could be said that someone may find offensive. But if we listen and learn, we will minimize the problem, even if we don’t solve it completely.
July 11, 2017 at 9:32 pm #29169
Thanks Andrew, for writing this piece about the stigma of mental health issues. My late wife, Melanie, who lost her battle with bipolar disorder was greatly affected by the stigma; and I believe that she is one of the folks you cite in your article that fatally delayed treatment because she didn’t want “people to know”.
Below is an excerpt of the eulogy that I read at her funeral service in which I ask my friends and family to help us all to fight the stigma, and the way we view these diseases of the brain. I hope it will help some folks to view this issue differently, and to really think through how we communicate about those, and with those, who fight these diseases daily:
“…I want you to focus on 3 words, “is”… “has”…and “why”.
Melanie wasn’t bipolar.
Melanie had a disease of the brain that was called “Bipolar Disorder”–and I assured her of that over and over. No one wants to be defined by a disease, and especially not someone as proud as my Melly. When people have cancer, they aren’t cancer, they have cancer. I don’t understand why mental illness defines someone with the word “is”. Its a disease of the brain, and although it usually doesn’t ravage the body like so many of the other horrible diseases, it does ravage the brain, and makes people do things that are unimaginable to those of us with normal functioning brains.
I believe that these mental diseases are just like all others: some are curable, some or controllable and some are terminal. I firmly believe that Melanie had a terminal case of this horrible disease that she fought so valiantly through. She took her meds, she went to therapy, she fought it, but at the end of the day, she succumbed to the terminal disease, just as someone who HAD terminal cancer.
So let’s work on inserting the “has”, and removing the “is”, and I believe the stigma associated with mental diseases will slowly begin to fade….”
I hope this will help folks to really think through their words and actions.
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