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Is the Way You Speak About Mental Illness Offensive?

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Maybe it's just me but I feel that, as a society our vocabulary is a little less filtered then what it was 10 or 15 years ago. I'm finding wherever I go, we are now tolerating people not saying "please and thank you" or even dropping the f-bomb without cringing. Society is certainly changing at such a rapid pace. But are we so crunched for time that we no longer think about what we say and how it could affect others before we say it?

I am just as guilty of not thinking before I speak. I was recently talking to a co-worker who was going through some difficulties in personal life and had been awake for 36 hours to which I replied "Oh, gosh that's crazy." My co-worker looked at me puzzled and said "While I get your point, you are the last person I thought would use the word crazy." My co-worker's comment made assess common phrases I use that while may seem OK to me could come across as offensive to others.

Then I began to wonder...what words or phrases do we say or use everyday that offend those who have mental health difficulties? I turned to my Twitter followers and Facebook friends to find out.

"Crazy/Insane/Nuts"
As I said above I am guilty of using the word "crazy" in everyday conversations and I will strive to take it out of my vocabulary. These terms are offensive because people use it to describe somebody who may be doing things or making decisions for themselves that as an individual we do not commonly witness. Others told me these terms were used to describe people that were being judged as irrational or energetic when actually these people were very gentle and kind.

"Schizo"
I don't have schizophrenia but even I take offense to the word "schizo" because it's slang and it's wrong. People told me that this word not only stigmatized those with schizophrenia it was also used in a more generalized way to describe somebody who was behaving in a way we are not necessarily accustomed to.

"Psycho"
Just because there's a movie called Psycho doesn't mean it's OK for the rest of us to go around using that word to describe those with mental health difficulties. Several people said there was a certain mental image and stigma attached to this word that makes it so offensive. I don't like the word either; so much so that I wish the pharmaceutical industry would stop using the term "antipsychotic."

"Looney Bin"
While the term may sound funny to some, it's not! This term is slang for a hospital or facility that cares for those with mental health difficulties. "Looney" is slang for lunatic which is yet another offensive word. Seeking help and getting treatment is no laughing matter. Using this term implies you are weak and wrong to receive treatment which is quite the opposite. Anybody who receives treatment should be praised and commended.

"Normal"
According to the dictionary this word means to conform to the standard or common type. I've always said people with mental health difficulties are just like everybody else. Yet others use it to divide those with mental health difficulties and those that don't which in that context is offensive. Sure we may have our challenges but we are just like everybody else. We're normal!

"Illness/Patient"
I use the term mental illness a lot because it seems to be the most politically correct term to use but many of you don't like the term because it makes it sound as if something is wrong or abnormal with you. This goes back to my point that we're just like everybody else. Several people didn't like being called a patient because it made them feel as if they were sick and it made them feel less of a person.

There are so many other terms that offend those with mental health difficulties and the ones I mentioned are just a small sample yet the most common ones people told me of. Using these terms is only adding to the amount of stigma we face.

From now on I will be carefully considering the impact of my words, favourite puns and phrases because while I may be using them as comic relief it could actually be offending others.

I hope you'll do the same!