That’s Crazy Talk

It makes me crazy when people say things make them crazy. It’s just nuts how people think everything is insane. I mean, I know it’s a schizo world and all, but how retarded do you think I am? It makes me so depressed I could just shoot myself. I wanna go postal. You must think I’m insane.

The worst is how people use “crazy talk” to describe difference. Difference is not crazy, not scary, not bad, and not wrong. Someone with different habits or preferences or ways of being is not crazy; or, at least, not simply because they do things differently.

No, that’s not the worst. The worst is when people use “crazy talk” in a way that does not hold non-crazy people responsible for their actions. Like those guys who shoot women because they can’t get a date. That’s not crazy, people. On the contrary, that is a perfectly logical extension of socially-acceptable misogyny and entitlement. Calling those guys “crazy” means you’re absolving them of responsibility. Just because you can’t understand someone’s motives or would never act that way doesn’t mean the person is crazy. Dismissing a mass murderer or domestic abuser or paedophile as “crazy” means we don’t have to look too closely at the systems that produced these people. It means we don’t have to see them on the same behavioural spectrum as everyone else.  In this case, “crazy” means not like me; it means they aren’t as human as me; it means we are different in kind, not merely in degree.

No, no, actually, that isn’t the worst either: the worst is how this kind of “crazy talk” creates and reinforces stigma against those of us who are actually crazy, who live with mental health diagnoses for illnesses that profoundly affect our lives and functioning. The vast majority of crazy people are as in control of our actions as anyone else. We know the difference between right and wrong. We are not more dangerous, statistically speaking, than any other group. In fact, statistically, we are disproportionately victimised by crime and living in poverty. But “crazy talk” reinforces the idea that we’re not like others; that our needs don’t have to be considered; that we are dangerous and unpredictable; that our difference is frightening and wrong.

No. The worst is how mental illness becomes how others see us, and how we see ourselves. And the picture isn’t pretty. It’s crazy, psycho, postal, retarded, schizo, whacked, nuts, irresponsible, weak, violent, unreliable, laughable, lazy, contagious, faking, unpredictable, useless to society, helpless, disruptive. Everything we do that you don’t agree with becomes attributable to our craziness. If I get mad at how you treat me, you get to dismiss me with “ah, you’re crazy.” Yes, I am crazy. But at least I’m not an asshole.

“Crazy talk” is a shorthand. It’s lazy thinking. It’s a stereotype. It can be used in ways that are superficially positive or emphatic (“I’m crazy busy!” or “That cake is insanely good!”) but it is rarely used accurately. This is a place where I would love to see more precision and thoughtfulness in people’s vocabulary choices.

My all-time two “crazy talk” peeves are people using “schizo” to mean Dissociative Identity Disorder (not what it means, people!!!) and people using “insane” in pretty much any context. Insanity isn’t even a mental health term. It is a legal term which specifically pertains to someone’s ability to distinguish right from wrong, or fantasy from reality, by reason of a mental disorder, at the time of their commission of an alleged crime. (I’m not a lawyer, so this might not be perfectly phrased, but I hope you get the idea.)

And the “crazy talk” that makes me saddest is the stuff around suicide. “Whyncha just go kill yourself?” and “I was so embarrassed I could have killed myself right there!” and “It’s the easy way out” and “She’ll probably end up slitting her wrists” and so on. The amount of pain and hopelessness a person feels, the extent of the bleak and endless despair, the horrible lonely desperate place you are in when you see death as the only way out… No more suicide jokes, no more dismissive comments and flip remarks, please. Please.

Recently, I came across the Ableist Word Profile, a really fabulous resource for anyone looking to learn more about ableist language. There are posts covering words and phrases such as crazy, special, cretin, intelligence, moron, and lots more.

s.e. smith explains:

Our goal with the Ableist Word Profile is to explore language, and the way in which language usage can subconsciously reinforce ableism. Indeed, the very structure of the English language reflects social attitudes about disability, and English language users are, therefore, steeped in these attitudes. We hope that all our readers can agree that the reason ableist language is so strong is because it is rooted in ideas about disability, and the value of people with disabilities, and prevailing conceptualization of disability.

Source: An Expansion On What the Ableist Word Profile Is and Is Not

My mom is a Registered Psychiatric Nurse who has spent much of her life not only working but also volunteering in the field, and one of her particular interests has been the stigma around mental illness and how everyday language contribute that that. When my brother were little, using crazy or retard or moron as insult—or referring to a person with schizophrenia as a schizophrenic—were offences as huge to my mom as lying to her or hitting each other. It has made me very conscious of how often and how casually these words are slung about. It’s hard sometimes to know what to replace those words with, so here’s another great resource called Disability Terminology: A starter Kit for Nondisabled People and the Media.

Enjoy updating your vocabulary! And remember: we differ only in degree, not in kind.


What do you think about this?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s