Please, stop using mental illness as an insult


The title is pretty self-explanatory and I could leave it at that: please, stop using mental illness as an insult.

But since my invitation would probably be ridiculed as a prime example of political correctness quite literally gone mad, I feel the need to elaborate further.

In English (but also in other languages, like Italian) there’s an impressive number of ways to pejoratively define someone suffering from a mental disorder or places and situations related to mental illness: crazy, lunatic, psycho, nut-job, whacko, freak, basket case, loony bin, bughouse. And the list goes on.

Unfortunately, those words are often used as an insult against someone we disagree with.

Just looks at politics in the media. From armchair diagnoses speculating over Boris Johnson’s “insanity,” to Trump’s history of using derogatory words to mock mental health, politics is ripe with mental illness-related terms used as an insult.

In Italian politics, a topic I follow reluctantly and only because I have to cast my vote every five years or so, it is disgustingly common to invoke an involuntary treatment (known by the abbreviation "TSO" in Italian) on political opponents you think are talking nonsense. Matteo Salvini, Italy's Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of the Interior, did it but also his political opponent and former Italy's Prime Minister Matteo Renzi did the same showing that politically is an across-the-board problem. 

The reasons we shouldn’t use mental illness as an insult are the same you wouldn’t use any other kind of illness as an insult. It’s deeply offensive and it makes no sense. Why would you use a legitimate medical condition to insult someone?  

Moreover, in the case of mental illness-related insults, it perpetuates a cruel stigma, hurting millions of people who suffer from mental illnesses. The stigma is also a barrier to help-seeking for people in need.

It also shuts down possible discussions on mental health, something, one way or the other, we can all benefit from.

And, on top of all of this, it’s just an incredibly lazy way to engage with your opponents, because it doesn’t really say anything about why you disagree with them. You’re just polarizing the discussion and nobody, besides the people who already agree with you, will understand your reasons better.

So, again, I could have really left it at that: please, stop using mental illness as an insult.

If you want to contribute to the cause of mental health awareness—besides telling your friends off when they use illnesses as insults like the good PC cop you are—you can check out the work of Mind, a mental health charity active in the U.K. or the National Alliance for Mental Illness in the United States.

Credit header image: Pixabay

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