C is for ‘Crazy’ or why respectful language is so important 

Content warning: Reference to bullying

When I was a child I got bullied. A Lot. One of the really unhelpful things the adults around me said was ‘sticks and bones will break your bones but names will never hurt you’. This was complete crap and the bullying I endured for years damaged me in a number of awful ways. 

The words we use are powerful. The words we use demonstrate very clearly how we feel about a topic, situation or person. When we talk about disability and mental health, language becomes extremely important. Ableist language is a big problem but it is everywhere. Just think of the term ‘crazy’. Its meaning relates to mental illness or psychosocial disability and it is a very negative word. However ti is used all the time to describe a range of negative things. This equates mental illness with all things negative. Even I use it from time to time – it slips out – and I think that is because it is pretty much ubiquitous. Some offensive and disrespectful language is almost universally acknowledged  as being offensive. People using those terms are aware that what they say is inappropriate, disrespectful and hurtful but they choose to use it. However, the term ‘crazy’ seems to be said with no understanding that it isn’t OK. People just say it. 

I have schizophrenia and there is a range of negative language around that – ‘’schizo’’ ‘psycho’ that kind of thing. Even the word psychotic is used incorrectly as a term for violence. Psychosis does not mean violence and when I am psychotic I am usually just totally terrified and feel like I am in a waking nightmare. I don’t need disrespectful and offensive language on top of that really!

In the autism and neurodiversity space there are also inappropriate and disrespectful words used to describe us. We need to remind people when they use this kind of language that it is not OK. It is hurtful and projects an ableist and hateful view. 

Language can be extremely hurtful. Some people seem to think I am being the political correctness police when I raise these things but I am not. The language we use is so important and we need to be aware that while sticks and stones can break our bones, offensive, hateful and judgemental language can break our brains and make us doubt and hate ourselves. It doesn’t take much to change how you speak and what language you use but it can make a big difference to how people feel about themselves and others.

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