Author Topic: Derogatory terms about mental illness  (Read 9997 times)

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sweetonsno

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Re: Derogatory terms about mental illness
« Reply #15 on: March 18, 2013, 07:06:22 PM »
Thanks for the update. I think "psycho" is borderline, tending towards not-bigoted. Some words, like "nuts" and "crazy" are often used as synonyms for "irrational" or "unrealistic" or even "impressively unusual." Others, like "schizo" are "crippled," are usually not used to describe behaviors or situations. I've not heard a person use "crippled" as a descriptor for another person if they weren't referring to an injury or illness that resulted in mobility issues.

I guess what I'd wonder is whether or not you think she actually meant "psycho" to denote the diagnosed mental illness or she was using it (albeit insensitively) as a way of expressing that this person was behaving in an irrational and inappropriate way. In short, had she dropped the diagnosis, would you have thought she was using "psycho" as a pejorative term for someone with a diagnosed mental illness, or as a slang term for someone who was behaving in an exceptionally odd way?

To use another situation, suppose a different friend was describing her neighbor's teenager. Let's say that this kid liked to emulate a particular television show that features a group of men doing silly and often self-destructive stunts, and he landed himself in the hospital after jumping off the roof, attempting to leap over a speeding car, or letting one of his friends hit him in the head with a bottle. If the friend called the kid "moronic," would you think she was being bigoted? (Keep in mind that "moron" did at one time denote a particular IQ range.) Suppose she had mentioned that he had a mild learning disability. Would you assume that the "moronic" referred to his choices or his disability?

My point is that assuming that a person is a bigot is not particularly charitable, and because this particular term isn't widely recognized as a slur, it's entirely possible that she wasn't intending to be offensive or disparage an entire group of people. (Racial and sexual slurs are a different story, as they are pretty much always intended to demean.) In this instance, I would not have interrupted her tirade, but later on quietly let her know that her term offended you. Interrupting someone's rant to accuse them of bigotry isn't going to go over well, so if it isn't clearly intended as a slur (or bullying), I don't think it's worth stepping in.

FWIW, I have not heard many (if any) people use the word "psycho" to literally mean "psychotic/mentally ill." Most of them use it to mean "disturbingly erratic" or "inappropriately unpredictable." In general, the behaviors (and people who engage in them) I've heard describes as psycho involve a lack of restraint. They might not be able to express their emotions in a controlled manner. They might not recognize boundaries. The common factor is that they don't quite exercise the self-censorship that is socially expected.

I also agree that it's probably best to not hang out with this group any more. I don't think they are bad people for not taking this particular term as derogatory or bigoted, but if you are on different pages about it and it's very important to you, they're a bad match.

TurtleDove

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Re: Derogatory terms about mental illness
« Reply #16 on: March 18, 2013, 08:54:14 PM »
POD to sweetonsno.

Calistoga

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Re: Derogatory terms about mental illness
« Reply #17 on: March 18, 2013, 09:04:27 PM »
Perhaps instead of a blanket  "That language is offensive", you might say "That kind of language really bothers me."

Jones

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Re: Derogatory terms about mental illness
« Reply #18 on: March 18, 2013, 09:12:02 PM »
**Deleted a personal experience, which I regretted sharing almost as soon as I posted**


OP, I think you did fine. Thank you for being alert to those of us who have a challenge that is often misunderstood.
« Last Edit: March 18, 2013, 09:26:48 PM by Jones »

Surianne

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Re: Derogatory terms about mental illness
« Reply #19 on: March 18, 2013, 09:20:45 PM »
Jones, I think sometimes it's important to recognize that not everyone is offended by the same things you are.  The woman in your story had a terrible experience, too, and chose to deal with it using humour.  That doesn't make her a bad person, and doesn't make her experience any less legitimate than yours.   

Perhaps instead of a blanket  "That language is offensive", you might say "That kind of language really bothers me."

I think this would be a better way of dealing with it -- both for the OP and for other posters in similar situations. 

MommyPenguin

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Re: Derogatory terms about mental illness
« Reply #20 on: March 18, 2013, 10:51:23 PM »
I agree with sweetsoandso.  I assumed that the word you were referring to was the "r" word.  But the word "psycho" is, among most of my acquaintance, more commonly used as sweetsoandso suggested, to mean erratic behavior or behavior beyond the pale, not actually referring to the person's real mental health (in most cases it would be referring to somebody who was perfectly mentally healthy but chose to act in a wild manner).  Even if used to denote a person and not a behavior, it would usually mean that the person was exhibiting that behavior, not that the person was actually diagnosed with some sort of issue. 

If it really bothered you that much, I'd have talked to her about it later, but I think that it's sort of like somebody trying to say, "Yeah, I had this terrifying experience last night!  This biker started pounding on my door and yelling, and we saw he was waving something and it looked like a gun, and--"  "Wait, did you just call him a biker?  Did you *know* he was a biker?  Or were you just assuming because you thought he *looked* like a biker?"  "I... huh?"  Yeah, maybe the person was using a term in a way they shouldn't or was making assumptions based on stereotype, but when they're upset and are telling about the problems, it's just gonna throw them for a loop.  Especially if we're not talking an obviously inappropriate slur, like the n word or the like.

Calistoga

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Re: Derogatory terms about mental illness
« Reply #21 on: March 18, 2013, 11:04:56 PM »
For my part- psycho seems about as offensive as dumb or lame. Generally a person who suffers from psychosis would not identify as "psycho". We use the phrase as a replacement for crazy.

Allyson

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Re: Derogatory terms about mental illness
« Reply #22 on: March 18, 2013, 11:10:19 PM »
You're not wrong to be bothered, of course, but I think that in this case approaching it as you did was unlikely to have the desired effects. That specific term isn't really universally acknowledged as problematic, which doesn't mean it's *not* but it does mean she likely had no idea it might possibly bother someone. As opposed to, say, a racist term or a more acknowledged slur, where she knows it's questionable but doesn't care. So it was probably very much as though, in the middle of recalling an upsetting experience, someone jumped on a (to her) random word she'd happened to use.

I think it would have been better to approach her by herself, when calmer, and mention that hearing that word bothers you so you'd appreciate if she didn't use it around you. I find that adding 'around me' to behaviour requests can be really useful. Telling someone 'don't use that word, don't make the gesture, don't tell that joke' in the abstract seems very dictatorial, but 'don't use that word around me, please' makes it about your own preferences and boundaries, rather than telling her she's objectively wrong.

Language changes so fast these days, and what was acceptable five years ago isn't always today. That doesn't mean we shouldn't try, but giving people of the benefit of the doubt tends to get better results.

sweetonsno

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Re: Derogatory terms about mental illness
« Reply #23 on: March 18, 2013, 11:20:50 PM »
Perhaps instead of a blanket  "That language is offensive", you might say "That kind of language really bothers me."

This is excellent advice.

Fleur

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Re: Derogatory terms about mental illness
« Reply #24 on: March 19, 2013, 05:27:59 AM »


While I don't condone the ganging up, OP, I kind of have to say I would have been exasperated in her position, as well. 'Psycho' is not really an offensive term IMO, it is not like 'schizo' more like 'crazy'. And I really, really sympathise with her having to deal with this woman day in day out. I think that if I had been venting a story like that, and somebody came in to the conversation and essentially policed my language over a term which is not universally offensive, I would have been highly annoyed. I think that you are right to bow out from the group, as it seems like it isn't a good fit for you.

sammycat

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Re: Derogatory terms about mental illness
« Reply #25 on: March 19, 2013, 06:13:44 AM »


While I don't condone the ganging up, OP, I kind of have to say I would have been exasperated in her position, as well. 'Psycho' is not really an offensive term IMO, it is not like 'schizo' more like 'crazy'. And I really, really sympathise with her having to deal with this woman day in day out. I think that if I had been venting a story like that, and somebody came in to the conversation and essentially policed my language over a term which is not universally offensive, I would have been highly annoyed. I think that you are right to bow out from the group, as it seems like it isn't a good fit for you.

POD

nyarlathotep

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Re: Derogatory terms about mental illness
« Reply #26 on: March 19, 2013, 07:45:49 AM »
My point is that assuming that a person is a bigot is not particularly charitable, and because this particular term isn't widely recognized as a slur, it's entirely possible that she wasn't intending to be offensive or disparage an entire group of people. (Racial and sexual slurs are a different story, as they are pretty much always intended to demean.)

Your suggestion is reasonable, but I just wanted to address this point: you do not have to be a bigot to inadvertently use bigoted language. People can perpetuate damaging slurs with the most innocent of intentions. Remember also that many "obvious" slurs went through the same stage once.

Being told "that word demeans people; please don't use it", and reacting in a hostile or defensive manner, is actually pretty natural. We don't like to think we're being racist/sexist/ableist/etc, because racists/sexists/ableists/etc are bad people, so we distance ourselves from that by transferring the blame to the affected party. "I'm not racist!" we say. "They're just easily offended!" We forget that making an innocent mistake does not reflect badly on us, so we'll choose to perpetuate it rather than admit we were wrong in the first place. Everyone's done it at some point.

So informing someone that their language is problematic needs to be handled very carefully. Certainly it is neither polite nor wise to put them in a corner. But it is not wrong to tell someone how their words can hurt people. At worst, you find out very quickly what kind of person they are. At best, you save them from a lot of embarrassment in the future.

Oh wow, that was long. If you've got this far, thanks for reading!

Giggity

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Re: Derogatory terms about mental illness
« Reply #27 on: March 19, 2013, 08:23:01 AM »
Act like a psycho, get called a psycho. I'm down with that.
Words mean things.

nyarlathotep

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Re: Derogatory terms about mental illness
« Reply #28 on: March 19, 2013, 08:26:13 AM »
Act like a psycho, get called a psycho. I'm down with that.

I am not certain what you intended to achieve by this post.

RingTailedLemur

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Re: Derogatory terms about mental illness
« Reply #29 on: March 19, 2013, 09:14:45 AM »
IMO and IME the word "psycho" is a very offensive slur.