by Kate Fitch
Some people embrace some of the not-so-nice nicknames for people with mental illness, and if that’s you, awesome. If you feel like owning the words, go for it. Totally up to you. But I don’t. “Nutjob,” “crazy,” “wacko,” “headcase,” etc. imply a few things that I don’t agree with:
- That it’s funny. Those words are kind of funny words. But mental illness is far from funny. Sure, it’s good to poke fun at the odd things my brain tells me sometimes, but as a general rule, I don’t think mental illness is funny. People who behave strangely due to mental illness aren’t doing it for your amusement. A lot of times, those people behaving strangely are very scared, confused, and in a place of darkness. That isn’t funny, not one bit.
- That our voices don’t matter. It’s easy to dismiss someone’s opinions and concerns when you label them a “headcase.” Oh, don’t worry what they think, they aren’t right in the head. The opinions of people with mental illness matter if you want them to get better. Ignoring what they prefer and is most helpful to them in their recovery in favor of what you think is best may very well drive them away from treatment altogether. If people don’t feel like they are listened to, why would they bother seeking help?
- That we’re incapable of independence. Words like “crazy” and “nutjob” imply a sense of helplessness. That we aren’t capable of enjoying any semblance of a normal life, which isn’t true. Not only are we capable of living with our symptoms, but many of us take pride in being able to maintain independence while living with them. No one wants to feel helpless. Sure, we might need help now and then, but rarely do we need someone to take care of everything. And even when we do, it’s not forever.
That our mental illness is the only thing that defines us. How are these words often used? In place of the person. “He’s a crazy person.” “She’s insane.” By saying things like that, you’re replacing all of the things that that person is beyond their illness with only one single thing about them. A person with mental illness is a person first, and a “with mental illness” second. Not the other way around. I am not OCD. I have OCD. I am not eating disordered. I have an eating disorder. I am not a crazy person. I am a person with friends, family, hobbies, interests, work, school…and I happen to also live with mental illness.