Saturday, February 13, 2016

Stigmatizing Mental Health Language: Context Before Criticism

About a week ago, I was confronted by the idea that I can't use certain words used historically to disparage the mentally ill, which struck me as wrong. I prescribe to the idea that words are just words. Context is everything. I'm also of the belief that people who have weak positions often take words out of context in order to either improve their own perceived moral high ground or because they truly think that a word can actually cause harm. I'm here to refute that idea. Mind you, I am not here to say that everyone needs to feel the way I feel. I'm only here to state my opinion because not only did a social justice warrior type chastise me for something that was completely innocuous, but I also felt like someone should stop the insanity when it comes to what language adults can use in conversation. Yes, I said insanity.

I was discussing the use of psychiatric medication with a conspiracy theorist when I said, "Where do you wackos get these ideas?" or something along those lines. It wasn't long before social justice warrior popped in to inform me that "I am better than that," insinuating that I was stooping to an unspeakable level by using the term wacko. Firstly, I wasn't using the word to imply that the conspiracy theorist was mentally ill. I was using it to say she was being wacko. People use this term all the time to express that something is odd, unusual, extreme, etc. Moreover, I was speaking to a woman who was essentially telling me to become a vegetarian and that would cure my severe OCD. I think my language was mild, but that's not point. Why did this person think it was okay to police my language? Why did she feel it was a slight to the mental health community? It's something I will never understand and I'll explain why.

When you don't look at the context of a conversation, a ton of words can be misconstrued as being harmful to a certain group of people. For example, if I call a movie lame, I could be accused of being ableist. The problem with that is I certainly didn't mean that the movie was disabled. That would be absurd. I meant it was boring, tired or something along those lines. It's a little "wacky" to take offense to that. Using an example that is a littl closer to the point, what if I build a slip 'n slide in my house and slide around on it, inviting my sister to come over to play. When she comes over and laughingly says, "You're crazy," should I take offense? I've been in a mental hospital. I have a long-standing mental disorder. Should I be p*ssed at my sister? Of course not! She didn't mean to disparage the mentally ill or even me. She's using widely accepted vernacular.

The same principle of context can be applied to region. In some places, a pack of f*gs is a pack of cigarettes, a f*ggot a meal. Where I live and in my opinion, it's a horribly mean thing to say to a homosexual. However, if someone from the UK said they smoked or ate one of these things, I would certainly take context into consideration. This leads me to my next point.

There are certainly cases where it is not okay to say things that are okay in other contexts. For example, someone saying "I'm so OCD" because they have a neat car is annoying, but it's not hurting anyone directly and usually isn't meant to be hurtful. However, a boyfriend calling his girlfriend bi-polar in order to gaslight her into feeling like she's mentally ill is not harmless. That is not okay. Criticizing someone's ideas is okay, else we'd all have to politely deal with climate change, Holocaust and AIDS denialism. Telling a person who is hallucinating that they are crazy is not. Will I tell people not to say these things? Of course not. I'm not the word police. I will let them deal with the consequences of being a mean person themselves. I will lend comfort to people who have been hurt and need help. I will spread awareness of the issue. I will not tell people how to speak or think. That can't lead anywhere good.