Author Topic: Derogatory terms about mental illness  (Read 9894 times)

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nyarlathotep

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Re: Derogatory terms about mental illness
« Reply #45 on: March 19, 2013, 11:37:23 AM »
I think "political correctness" is the wrong term to use here, not least because nobody seems to be able to agree on what it means.

The issue is that people who are mentally ill, or have mentally ill relatives, may hear you use the word psycho as a pejorative and think, "So that's what you think of me/my loved ones, then."

If someone is a terrible person, call them a terrible person. Don't compare them to somebody who cannot help their behaviour.

I am not really following some of the posters here.  It seemed clear to me that the friend was using "psycho" to refer to the behavior of someone who happened to be bipolar.  Otherwise she would not be complaining about the behavior but rather just saying, "Neighbor is bipolar.  What a pyscho."  I understood she instead said, "Neighbor did x, y and z - she's psycho! I heard she's bipolar which might explain it, but still!  I wish she would change her behavior!"  It doesn't come across to me at all as slamming bipolar people. It comes across as correctly (although perhaps insensitively) labeling some pretty outrageous behavior.

Apologies - I edited my post to make my meaning clearer.

TurtleDove

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Re: Derogatory terms about mental illness
« Reply #46 on: March 19, 2013, 12:08:55 PM »
The issue is that using the word 'psycho' as a pejorative is insulting to mentally ill people, who often cannot help their behaviour. Calling someone who isn't mentally ill a 'psycho' implies that mentally ill people are inherently bad, or all act in a certain way, while insulting a mentally ill person for behaviour they cannot control is equally unfair.

Speaking as someone who suffers from a mental illness, I wince internally every time I hear slurs like that, because it makes me wonder whether they would see me as a human being if they knew what I had to struggle with.

I am sorry that you have been hurt by things like this.  I don't use the term "psycho," but I think you are reading in personal offense where none is intended by believing people who do use the term to describe erratic behavior are implying that mentally ill people are inherently bad, or all act in a certain way.  I grasp what people are saying about being sensitive to how others perceive what is said, which is why I personally do not use that term (or others that I don't personally find problematic but understand others do).  But I also think there is something to be said for not reading into things to find offense. 

Not a perfect analogy, but my sister died at age 29 because of bacterial and spinal meningitis related to using dirty heroin needles.  When people describe drug addicts as "druggies" or make statements about how stupid, illegal, immoral, or ___ their behavior is, I do not take it as a personal slam against my sister.  She had the disease of addiction, and for whatever reason she could not overcome it.  She was a beautiful person with a lot to offer the world...who also unfortunately was a drug addict who did stupid, illegal and immoral things.  To assume everyone who is harsh toward drug addicts is actively insulting my sister would be exhausting and unproductive. 

WillyNilly

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Re: Derogatory terms about mental illness
« Reply #47 on: March 19, 2013, 12:18:47 PM »
To me it's about specific behavior. Some people with bipolar are psycho. Just like plenty of people with bipolar aren't. And plenty of non-bi-polar people are psychos, just like plenty are not. The behavior is what makes a person psycho, not the diagnosis. In fact explaining the diagnosis IMO lessens the derogatory-ness (and that would go for bi-polar, or even just "her husband was recently killed" - its saying "yeah this person is going all crazytown on me, but perhaps there is a bigger picture reason" vs just saying the person is acting erratically for no reason other then being crazy.)

At the end of the day, behavior is behavior. Sometimes there is a good reason for weird, annoying, or bad behavior, sometimes there is not. But its not the public's responsibility to know or excuse people for bad behavior, it is an individual's responsibility to reign in their behavior.

LadyL

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Re: Derogatory terms about mental illness
« Reply #48 on: March 19, 2013, 12:19:58 PM »
I don't think psycho is a slur against the mentally ill, because not all psychotic behavior is due to mental illness. It could be due to drug use, or severe sleep deprivation. It refers to a behavior, not an internal characteristic. If it were a character trait, you couldn't treat it with medication, like how you can't medicate someone into acting generous.

I also think this distinction is important because someone can have a mental illness associated with psychosis, and not be acting psychotic if they are properly treated. You can have schizophrenia or bipolar and not act psycho; hopefully with treatment that would be the norm. So "psycho = behavior outside the norm."  Arguably, expecting mentally ill people to abide by the rules of society is less insulting than excusing "psycho" behavior due to their illness. In the original example, the friend does not need to accept the neighbor's harassment because she suspects they are mentally ill - the neighbor does not get to infringe on the rights of others due to ANY medical condition.

Now, whether it is realistic to hold mentally ill people responsible for seeking appropriate care rather than infringing on others is a matter of policy, law, etc. but as far as etiquette goes, my understanding is that no one gets a pass for being rude because of a condition.

Zilla

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Re: Derogatory terms about mental illness
« Reply #49 on: March 19, 2013, 12:44:24 PM »
I think in the end it's one of those circles where people are determined to use what words they want to use and declare them not offensive.  And then we have those that do declare it offensive where there are a millions way to describe it without using that specific term.  And then there are others that will find it offensive in any categorical use.  And it's an endless circle, there are the trolls, the racist who use that term just to be offensive. Etc Etc.


In other words, no one is right and no one is wrong.  I myself fall in between two on that circle.  I won't condemn a person for using psycho in the same breath as describing a person with a known issue whatever it may be.  But I will speak up and explain why as I did in this thread I feel about it.  I wouldn't yell, condemn or be horrified.

Mikayla

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Re: Derogatory terms about mental illness
« Reply #50 on: March 19, 2013, 01:05:38 PM »

Not a perfect analogy, but my sister died at age 29 because of bacterial and spinal meningitis related to using dirty heroin needles.  When people describe drug addicts as "druggies" or make statements about how stupid, illegal, immoral, or ___ their behavior is, I do not take it as a personal slam against my sister.  She had the disease of addiction, and for whatever reason she could not overcome it.  She was a beautiful person with a lot to offer the world...who also unfortunately was a drug addict who did stupid, illegal and immoral things.  To assume everyone who is harsh toward drug addicts is actively insulting my sister would be exhausting and unproductive.

On this we are in complete agreement.  I have a severe strain of alcoholism in my immediate family, including a mom who died quite young of obvious alcoholic disease.  I've heard it all, too, and have never taken it as a slam on my mom or sibs.  It also became my career, and I've heard it all there, as well.

What's interesting about this thread is everyone clearly has their own line in the sand.  I tend to be more "liberal" in what bothers me, and the word psycho wouldn't even land on my radar as offensive.  If it's ok to say "don't engage the crazy", I can't see why "don't engage the psycho" is any different.  It doesn't have a specific meaning.


Melde

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Re: Derogatory terms about mental illness
« Reply #51 on: March 19, 2013, 01:37:31 PM »
But the word psycho does have a specific meaning. Where do you think it comes from? It is from either psychotic or psychopathic, condition not to be thrown about lightly. It is kind if like me labelling everyone a derogatory word for a loose woman if they play scrabble with more than one man in their life. Just because it is acceptable in my group and everyone uses the word S*** all the time does not make it less hurtful. If they diagnosis was separated from the term, it would be different. I am glad to now know that if I have a bad day with my bipolar, I cannot be offend if someone calls me a psycho. I am just too sensitive.




LadyL

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Re: Derogatory terms about mental illness
« Reply #52 on: March 19, 2013, 01:43:14 PM »
But the word psycho does have a specific meaning. Where do you think it comes from? It is from either psychotic or psychopathic, condition not to be thrown about lightly. It is kind if like me labelling everyone a derogatory word for a loose woman if they play scrabble with more than one man in their life. Just because it is acceptable in my group and everyone uses the word S*** all the time does not make it less hurtful. If they diagnosis was separated from the term, it would be different. I am glad to now know that if I have a bad day with my bipolar, I cannot be offend if someone calls me a psycho. I am just too sensitive.

I don't think anyone is saying you can't be offended, but I and others have pointed out that this is potentially a grey area where different people see it different ways. The issue is more about, if you are offended, how to say so politely.

I'm not sure there is an answer for "is it rude to use the word 'psycho' as a descriptor."

I don't see the equivalence for a word referring to psychotic behavior (which is dangerous to others, objectively, and not based on a moral stance) and calling someone you perceive as promiscuous a rude name (the word you suggested is an insult, has never had a meaning like "symptom of a disorder" or a behavior, and is based on a moral view not an objective one).

Melde

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Re: Derogatory terms about mental illness
« Reply #53 on: March 19, 2013, 01:45:55 PM »
But the people are not using it as a symptomatic descriptor, they are using it as a moral term, 'She is psycho because she is being extremely difficult' I doubt they have a proper understand of the word psychotic, which is what they are using. She may be driving them up the wall, but if her behavior was actually psycho, it would be Much different, and a legitimate call to the police.

violinp

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Re: Derogatory terms about mental illness
« Reply #54 on: March 19, 2013, 01:51:33 PM »
But the word psycho does have a specific meaning. Where do you think it comes from? It is from either psychotic or psychopathic, condition not to be thrown about lightly. It is kind if like me labelling everyone a derogatory word for a loose woman if they play scrabble with more than one man in their life. Just because it is acceptable in my group and everyone uses the word S*** all the time does not make it less hurtful. If they diagnosis was separated from the term, it would be different. I am glad to now know that if I have a bad day with my bipolar, I cannot be offend if someone calls me a psycho. I am just too sensitive.

POD. It has both a dictionary definition and connotation that are both uncomplimentary at best. Would it be okay if someone said, "Oh, I'm depressed because I didn't get my Coke today."? No, it wouldn't, because words mean things. Depressed and disappointed are not synonyms, and they shouldn't be treated as such. Someone who behaves in a bizarre or dangerous manner is not automatically a "psycho," any more than someone who didn't get a beverage has a mental condition that sometimes means that attending to basic needs is a great mental effort.

Mental illness is not something to joke about or to take lightly. I don't mean that people who have a mental illness cannot joke about their own experiences, but those who do not have mental illness need to be thoughtful of how they talk about such things, because life would be a lot more pleasant if we were considerate of other people's life experiences
"It takes a great deal of courage to stand up to your enemies, but even more to stand up to your friends" - Harry Potter


Sharnita

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Re: Derogatory terms about mental illness
« Reply #55 on: March 19, 2013, 02:04:01 PM »
Actually, I think it is generally accepted and understood when people use "depressed" that way.

Tabby Uprising

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Re: Derogatory terms about mental illness
« Reply #56 on: March 19, 2013, 02:07:02 PM »
But the word psycho does have a specific meaning. Where do you think it comes from? It is from either psychotic or psychopathic, condition not to be thrown about lightly. It is kind if like me labelling everyone a derogatory word for a loose woman if they play scrabble with more than one man in their life. Just because it is acceptable in my group and everyone uses the word S*** all the time does not make it less hurtful. If they diagnosis was separated from the term, it would be different. I am glad to now know that if I have a bad day with my bipolar, I cannot be offend if someone calls me a psycho. I am just too sensitive.

POD. It has both a dictionary definition and connotation that are both uncomplimentary at best. Would it be okay if someone said, "Oh, I'm depressed because I didn't get my Coke today."? No, it wouldn't, because words mean things. Depressed and disappointed are not synonyms, and they shouldn't be treated as such. Someone who behaves in a bizarre or dangerous manner is not automatically a "psycho," any more than someone who didn't get a beverage has a mental condition that sometimes means that attending to basic needs is a great mental effort.

Mental illness is not something to joke about or to take lightly. I don't mean that people who have a mental illness cannot joke about their own experiences, but those who do not have mental illness need to be thoughtful of how they talk about such things, because life would be a lot more pleasant if we were considerate of other people's life experiences

I totally think that would be an okay thing to say.  If I overheard someone say that I wouldn't think they were making a literal comparison to an individual diagnosed with clinical depression.  I also wouldn't think someone stating they were "starved" for lunch was making light of literal starvation.  I think it's an acceptable use of language.  It's exaggeration, hyperbole, levity, frustration, or whimsy depending on the phrase. 

It hurts me to be that literal - I'm just not wired for it. 

Softly Spoken

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Re: Derogatory terms about mental illness
« Reply #57 on: March 19, 2013, 02:10:32 PM »
I think the problem sometimes isn't the word being used but the context and the reason for using it.

ACTING "psycho" is not the same as actually BEING a diagnosed psychotic.

The behaviors OP described the neighbor doing that were annoying the ventor sounded like general "annoying neighbor" things that could just  indicate either a lack of boundaries or general cluelessness. The behavior may have seemed crazy or unusual to the ventor, obviously enough to bother her...but I don't think she should have lumped in the (confirmed or assumed diagnosis?) of bipolar disorder with her complaint about the behavior.

The problem with getting diagnosed with a mental illness (ironically I was actually discussing this with my therapy group last week ::)) is that people have a tendency to see the diagnosis and not you. You lose your credibility and everything get filtered through your label. If you are sad, people assume it is your depression. You can't just be happy you have to be starting a manic episode...and so on and so forth.

Yes the neighbors behavior may have been annoying, but that is a separate issues from her mental health. It is a double-edged sword to bring it into consideration: either it is used to dismiss her ("She's just crazy that's how she is" etc.) or to villify her ("I can't have a rational conversation with her about this, she'd go off on me because she's such a psycho").

Understanding that someone's behavior may be caused by, or at least affected by, a mental illness might give you the opportunity to sympathize, and might allow for a more informed way of approaching them. However in the end you need to address the behavior and not the illness that may or may not be behind it.

I think OPs objection to the term "psycho" got everyone on the P.C. defensive and missed the bigger point: that it wasn't appropriate for the ventor to speculate and gossip about the mental health of the person whose actions she objected to. No matter what word she used, if she was spending her time saying how her neighbor was crazy instead of complaining about how crazy unusual or annoying she found the neighbor's behavior to be, then she was focusing on the wrong thing. If this was a "vent" session that slammed another person, it was not appropriate.

No matter who someone is or what they do, saying bad things about them instead of addressing their actions is a waste of time and can make the person speaking seem petty and biased. When people vent on this board, we want to discuss the problem - not hear people call their MIL a *deleted* or talk about what a *redacted* their Ex is and how their Aunt is always *insert unnecessary speculative gossip here*.

Words have great power, and should be chosen carefully.
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WillyNilly

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Re: Derogatory terms about mental illness
« Reply #58 on: March 19, 2013, 02:14:59 PM »
But the word psycho does have a specific meaning. Where do you think it comes from? It is from either psychotic or psychopathic, condition not to be thrown about lightly. It is kind if like me labelling everyone a derogatory word for a loose woman if they play scrabble with more than one man in their life. Just because it is acceptable in my group and everyone uses the word S*** all the time does not make it less hurtful. If they diagnosis was separated from the term, it would be different. I am glad to now know that if I have a bad day with my bipolar, I cannot be offend if someone calls me a psycho. I am just too sensitive.

Words can have more then one meaning. The casual term "psycho" does not mean the same thing as the clinical definition of psychotic o psychopathic. Its a laymans term for erratic and annoying, often extreme behavior.

And *everyone* has psycho days. Everyone. Most of us are quite limited in how often or extreme our psycho behavior is, but everyone at some point could be casually described as "acting psycho" as its used in modern slang. Bi-polar people (or any other clinical diagnosis) does not omit a person from being assigned the term ocasionally, just like not having a diagnosed issue doesn't bar anyone from the label. Its its own thing.

Sure sometimes someone is acting psycho because of mental illness. That actually is a situation that happens. But sometimes they are acting psycho due to extreme stress and extreme situaions, and their overall mental health does't play into it all. In fact a mentall ill person might have an advantage of having medication or personal techniques to keep a psycho reaction in check better.

Two Ravens

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Re: Derogatory terms about mental illness
« Reply #59 on: March 19, 2013, 02:22:30 PM »
Actually, I think it is generally accepted and understood when people use "depressed" that way.

Yes. It is not even hyperbole. The dictionary definition of "depressed" includes "sad and gloomy; dejected; downcast."

The word in itself has nothing to do with clinical depression, or Major depressive disorder (MDD)