I’ve just uncovered what the silent treatment has done to our conversations about mental health: we don’t even know what words to use.
The language for talking about mental health is a thing of great sensitivity and controversy.
After decades of living with family members who have bipolar, I’ve come to think of mental illness, especially bipolar, as a brain disease.
Yet, recently I’ve learned that to call mental illness a “disease” can
1) be offensive
2) add to the stigma
3) make mental illness sound like it’s contagious.
Is mental illness a brain disorder or a brain disease? Or is it an illness?
Why can’t we all agree what to call it? This is curious to me and I wonder about all of the dynamics at play.
The fact that we don’t know what words to use in our conversations is a symptom of our decades of silence.
Now that we are breaking the silence about mental illness, what are we to say and how are we to say it?
So much of our language is contextual, based on our personal experiences.
Among family and friends we often throw around the word “crazy.” This word can be experienced as offensive, inappropriate and dehumanizing. But when my family and friends are talking about ourselves, we use this word crazy.
Is it possible for people impacted by mental illness to reclaim the word “crazy” for ourselves, just as other movements have reclaimed derogatory words as a means of empowerment?
I’m thinking about words that once were used to slander such as “gay,” “queer” or even “Christian.” All of these words originated by outsiders trying to bully and belittle.
I’m not a psychiatrist or a psychologist. I am no neurologist or biologist. I am just a person who knows what it’s like to sense that crazy is in the blood. Because it runs in the family and it’s real no matter what you call it.