Author Topic: Derogatory terms about mental illness  (Read 10995 times)

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JustEstelle

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Derogatory terms about mental illness
« on: March 18, 2013, 03:29:55 PM »
I was recently in a situation where someone was venting about a neighbor with mental health issues.  The person was intruding on the venter's life - knocking on the door within moments of seeing the venter coming home from work, borrowing things, calling repeatedly, etc.  In describing the situation, the venter not only described the offending behavior and shared the neighbor's mental health diagnosis, she also called the neighbor a derogatory term used to refer to one with a mental illness. 

I found that term offensive and made it known that, while I sympathized with her plight at being annoyed with the neighbor's intrusive behavior, calling someone with a mental illness such a term is inappropriate.  The consensus of the group seems to be, as long as you're not naming names or talking about someone present or someone we know, it's fair game to use derogatory terms.  Then I kind of got ganged-up-on, in very much a "mean girls" manner.

I tried to be gentle in pointing out why the term was offensive, but it could have ventured into the realm of calling out rudeness. 

My question is, what more could I have done or what more can I do?  For now, because of the "mean girls" atmosphere, I am bowing out of this group.  Not sure if I want to try to be a part of them ever again.

Your thoughts?

Edited for clarity.
« Last Edit: March 18, 2013, 03:31:42 PM by JustEstelle »

bloo

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Re: Derogatory terms about mental illness
« Reply #1 on: March 18, 2013, 03:48:46 PM »
I sympathize with you and am sorry that you were ganged-up on 'mean-girl' style! :(

Since you're asking though, I would just like to point out that when someone is venting, they are upset, angry, frustrated, etc. and are, therefore not always thinking clearly or speaking politically correctly. Listening quietly to the venter + choosing a later time to bring up proper terminology might be a better way to go - you know, when they are calm and able to think a little more rationally. In fact, the venter may not refer to a mentally ill person by a derogatory term in everyday speech. The venter may have done it at that moment because he or she was upset.

I don't blame you for wanting to 'bow-out' of the group, though - at least for a little while.

TurtleDove

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Re: Derogatory terms about mental illness
« Reply #2 on: March 18, 2013, 04:00:55 PM »
I think the specific term used matters too.  There are some people who become upset over words that are either technical terms or for whatever other reason commonly accepted as not derogatory that nevertheless offend others.  Sorry you felt ganged up on, and probalby best to distance yourself if you were offended.

NestHolder

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Re: Derogatory terms about mental illness
« Reply #3 on: March 18, 2013, 04:01:10 PM »
JustEstelle, I think you did the right thing in raising the matter.  It's a pity none of the other people in the room was willing to back you up.  I don't blame you in the least for withdrawing from the group - perhaps that will cause at least one of them to think about it again, when they see that it is important to you.

Shoo

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Re: Derogatory terms about mental illness
« Reply #4 on: March 18, 2013, 04:03:24 PM »
To me, there's a difference between saying, "She's crazy"  and "She's schizo."  One is pretty commonly used, and the other seems kind of mean to me.  Is this the kind of thing you're talking about?

nyarlathotep

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Re: Derogatory terms about mental illness
« Reply #5 on: March 18, 2013, 04:10:07 PM »
Thank you for posting this, and also, thank you for saying it.

Calling out bigoted language is not the same as calling out rudeness. The language we use and hear others use shapes the way we view the world. Using casually derogatory terms for mentally ill people reinforces the idea that mentally ill people are inferior - no matter the intention. You were right to do what you did.

TurtleDove

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Re: Derogatory terms about mental illness
« Reply #6 on: March 18, 2013, 04:24:06 PM »
Thank you for posting this, and also, thank you for saying it.

Calling out bigoted language is not the same as calling out rudeness. The language we use and hear others use shapes the way we view the world. Using casually derogatory terms for mentally ill people reinforces the idea that mentally ill people are inferior - no matter the intention. You were right to do what you did.

I think this is why the specific language used matters.  I wouldn't say mentally ill people are inferior, but, for example, in situations where mentally ill people are expecting to be accomodated for their illness (or using their illnesses to explain behavior) I don't think it is rude or derogatory to state facts.  "Mary is bipolar - she's manic right now. I wouldn't buy into her business plan without fully researching it."  Or, "Charlie is developmentally disabled - he has the mental capacity of an 8 year old even though he is 36. He didn't realize what he did was wrong."

nyarlathotep

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Re: Derogatory terms about mental illness
« Reply #7 on: March 18, 2013, 04:37:26 PM »
Thank you for posting this, and also, thank you for saying it.

Calling out bigoted language is not the same as calling out rudeness. The language we use and hear others use shapes the way we view the world. Using casually derogatory terms for mentally ill people reinforces the idea that mentally ill people are inferior - no matter the intention. You were right to do what you did.

I think this is why the specific language used matters.  I wouldn't say mentally ill people are inferior, but, for example, in situations where mentally ill people are expecting to be accomodated for their illness (or using their illnesses to explain behavior) I don't think it is rude or derogatory to state facts.  "Mary is bipolar - she's manic right now. I wouldn't buy into her business plan without fully researching it."  Or, "Charlie is developmentally disabled - he has the mental capacity of an 8 year old even though he is 36. He didn't realize what he did was wrong."

Exactly! Thank you!

Calling Mary a "nutter" or Charlie a "spastic", on the other hand, helps nobody.

JustEstelle

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Re: Derogatory terms about mental illness
« Reply #8 on: March 18, 2013, 04:40:43 PM »
I wasn't going to include it, but since some of you asked, I will tell you the term she used.  She told us that the neighbor was "psycho" and went on to share the neighbor's diagnosis of being bipolar.  If she'd just told us the neighbor was bipolar and left it at that, I wouldn't feel offended.  There was no need to call the neighbor "psycho."   :-\

Surianne

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Re: Derogatory terms about mental illness
« Reply #9 on: March 18, 2013, 05:54:43 PM »
Huh, I had no idea anyone had a problem with psycho.

I agree with bloo that it would have been better to educate the person when she was calmer.  Interrupting someone's vent to judge/educate them based on the language they use probably isn't going to get you anywhere pleasant.

jaxsue

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Re: Derogatory terms about mental illness
« Reply #10 on: March 18, 2013, 06:02:32 PM »
Huh, I had no idea anyone had a problem with psycho.

I agree with bloo that it would have been better to educate the person when she was calmer.  Interrupting someone's vent to judge/educate them based on the language they use probably isn't going to get you anywhere pleasant.

This.

I can understand someone's exasperation at a situation like this. If she has to deal with it daily, no wonder she's tired of it.

dawbs

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Re: Derogatory terms about mental illness
« Reply #11 on: March 18, 2013, 06:17:42 PM »
I wasn't going to include it, but since some of you asked, I will tell you the term she used.  She told us that the neighbor was "psycho" and went on to share the neighbor's diagnosis of being bipolar.  If she'd just told us the neighbor was bipolar and left it at that, I wouldn't feel offended.  There was no need to call the neighbor "psycho."   :-\

FWIW, if she had called the neighbor bipolar without any realistic reason to think that the neighbor has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, that would bother me leaps and bounds more than the word 'psycho'.  I'd have called her out on the former, not the latter.

I'm guessing that there's not going to be a lot of consensus on this one at this point--it will reach a point of consensus but the language and attitudes in this segment of society are  still evolving to much.

Frostblooded

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Re: Derogatory terms about mental illness
« Reply #12 on: March 18, 2013, 06:36:31 PM »
Huh. I was thinking the word "*******" in this instance. I was way off!

Although I do not condone the "ganging" and the "mean girls" attitude, I think you did the right thing by removing yourself from this particular group. It seems that you and them do not mesh well. To some people "psycho" is just a catch-all for "This person scares me and needs help!"

ETA: Oh dear, the filter! I don't blame them. It's the big "R" word, in this instance.
« Last Edit: March 18, 2013, 06:40:16 PM by Frostblooded »

Tea Drinker

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Re: Derogatory terms about mental illness
« Reply #13 on: March 18, 2013, 06:46:13 PM »
I'm not sure how bad this specific case is: I would try to avoid the term, and if called on it would apologize, but I suspect I am more careful than average about derogatory language for disabilities.

However, I am sure that the "it's not about someone specific" argument doesn't hold water: if someone uses a derogatory term for people of a certain race or religion, I wouldn't be remotely impressed or convinced by "I don't see what you're upset about, it's not like I mentioned a specific $derogatory_term" or "Why do you care if I call him $insult, you don't even know him" even if it was true that I didn't know the person who had just been insulted.
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LazyDaisy

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Re: Derogatory terms about mental illness
« Reply #14 on: March 18, 2013, 06:56:31 PM »
I'm afraid the terms "psycho" "crazy" and "toxic" pretty much mean the same thing to me -- a person with a pattern of behavior that is unacceptable/frightening/dangerous/hurtful regardless of any actual mental health diagnosis. I wonder if you would have had the same reaction if she just said her neighbor was psycho and didn't throw in the bipolar diagnosis.
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