Monday, January 2, 2017

Don't Call Me Crazy: The Link Between Speech and Stigma

Crazy, psycho, nuts....we've all heard names get thrown around when mental illness is being discussed. I've had personal experience on this front.

I used to have a diagnosis of Schizoaffective Disorder. What this means is that there are both psychotic symptoms (schizo), and mood disorder symptoms (affective) present. After about a year passed my treatment team came to the conclusion that this was a misdiagnosis. However, I still had people who knew of my history or who simply knew that I was struggling with mental health conditions make snap judgments against me. Both at church and school I was called names like "crazy."

I used to joke to my mom, "I'm not insane. I'm psychotic."

Oh, how I wish the difference in these two terms was common knowledge. Psychosis, or any mental health condition does not make a person crazy. When terms like this are used to label people with mental illnesses it sticks in people's minds. That becomes the first thing they see when looking at us.

Words like crazy and psycho have a negative impact. These words create a culture of fear and stigma. It is not right, but words with a negative impact often overshadow those with positive such as mother, father, wife, news anchor, businesswoman.

It can't be laid out more simply than when Mahatma Gandhi said, "Your beliefs become your thoughts, Your thoughts become your words, Your words become your actions, Your actions become your habits, Your habits become your values, Your values become your destiny.”

If we change how we think about mental illness and the words we use when talking about it, it could change all of our destiny. It won't happen overnight, but if each one of us makes a conscious effort to think of people based on who they are becoming, rather than the struggles they are overcoming, it has the power to create change in the world.

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