Many of us spent the holidays engaged in conversations with family, friends, colleagues and loved ones. Many of these conversations were likely light-hearted, others serious and challenging, and some were even jokes no doubt. And how many of these conversations involved the words "crazy" or "insane?"
Often we use these words in casual conversations to refer to actions that we find scary, shocking or unbelievable. These words are also used to describe the actions of individuals that we don't understand, like the president of our neighbour to the south, or individuals who commit horrific crimes.
These are our society's go-to words for conveying that something is frightening, but they perpetuate the stigma around mental health issues and contribute to the otheringof people with mental illnesses.
From a very young age, society teaches us to fear people with mental health issues. Who is Batman's arch enemy? It's the Joker and he is "insane." Who is the most dangerous villain on the Simpsons? It's Sideshow Bob and he is "crazy." Cartoons, movies, music and media all subtly reinforce the same message: people with mental health issues are to be feared.
Many studies have found that media and the entertainment industry play a key role in shaping public opinions about mental health and illness. People with mental health conditions are often depicted as dangerous, violent and unpredictable. Entertainment frequently features negative images and stereotypes about mental illnesses, and these portrayals have been strongly linked to the development of public fears concerning individuals with mental health conditions.Television portrayals do little to convince the public that individuals with mental illnesses do recover, and are active and productive members of our society.
These subtle messages linking fear, violence and mental health are reflected in our society's attitudes. A 2008 Canadian Medical Association study found that one in four Canadians admitted they would be fearful to be around someone with a serious mental illness. The fear that people with mental health conditions may be dangerous or violent is at the core of the stigma around mental health.
People with mental health conditions are actually more likely to be the victims of violence.
Yet, studies have shown that people living with mental health conditions are no more likely to engage in violent behaviour than the general population. Estimating the rate of violent behaviour by people with mental illnesses is complex, and a definitive causal relationship between violence and mental illnesses has not been established.
People with mental health conditions are actually more likely to be the victims of violence. However, public misperceptions are contributing to negative attitudes and stereotypes, which lead to the experience of stigma, discrimination and social exclusion of people with mental illnesses.
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Our casual use of the words "crazy" and "insane" reinforce these negative stereotypes and fears. So, this year, let's all make a resolution to stop using these words. Instead, let's find alternative words for what we actually mean, like that's unreal, that's unbelievable, that's wild. Let's take this important step in reducing the stigma around mental health.
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