- 16 million American adults had at least one major depressive episode in 2012.
- Mental health stigma plays a part in a reported 41,000 individuals take their own life each year.
- Being conscious of your language is one way to combat this prevailing stigma.
- Hearing people say the word “crazy” kept me from seeking the treatment I needed.
I’m confident I’ve been called crazy on numerous times for a wide variety of reasons. For being an opinionated woman on the internet; for agreeing to participate in a political debate on Facebook; for refusing to watch “Stranger Things.”
But one moment in particular stands above the rest. I had shared a decision to take on extra work and supplement my income, undoubtedly making my busy schedule all the more difficult to manage. In response to my decision, a dear friend called me “crazy.”
What she meant was, “You’re taking on way too much work without enough hours in the day.” What I heard was a reminder of the stigma associated with a diagnoses shared with me years prior, by a kind psychologist who arguably saved my life. What I heard was, “You’re broken.”
The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) estimates that 16 million American adults had at least one major depressive episode in 2012. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 300 million people suffer from depression worldwide, and sites depression as the leading cause of disability worldwide. An estimated 7.8 percent of Americans will experience PTSD at least some point in their lives, with women (10.4%) twice as likely as men (5%) to develop PTSD. And anxiety disorders affect 40 million adults in the United States.
In other words, my mental illnesses are common, and I am not alone in my experiences with them.
Even with how many people are touched by mental illness each year, we continue to call things “crazy.”
I hear the words “crazy and “insane” and “lunatic” thrown around with reckless abandon and to describe decisions people make, things people say, and people who simply think differently than other people.
“Wow, that woman is dating that guy? Clearly she’s insane.” “Can you believe that incredible thing actually happened? That’s so crazy!” And every single time I’m made to feel less than, more invisible, and more incomplete, as if my hidden scars will forever leave me feeling wanting; on the outside looking in.
Because what is really being said, in these instances when “crazy” is used to describe a disapproving action or something outlandish or a person some other person simply dislikes, is that someone, or something, is either broken or unrealistic. And as a woman who lives with PTSD, depression, and anxiety because she grew up with physically-abusive father and, later in life, was raped by a coworker, I can tell you that I am neither.
I am not some intrinsically shattered human being. I am very much real and alive and tangible proof of not only humanity’s complexities, but its strength, endurance, and perseverance.
Words matter, especially when we’re talking about mental illness.
I am real. My diagnoses are real. And using the word “crazy” to describe some wild weekend you had or some woman you can’t stand, does nothing but diminish who I am, what I’ve endured, and the person I am working to become.
The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) said being conscious of your language is one way to combat this prevailing stigma that drives a wedge between suffering and treatment; between feeling like you’re alone and knowing you’re not; between living a life of immense pain and fear and shame and living a life fulfilled.
I grew up surrounded by palpable shame regarding mental illness, and an insidious judgment of those who suffered from it. My father believed psychology was pseudo-science wrapped in a “politically-correct” need to tell everyone they’re special, and perceived those with depression, anxiety, or any other diagnoses as weak. Crying was a deficiency, talking about your feelings was nothing more than complaining, and sadness was a shortcoming best fixed quickly.
So I never sought treatment for what I later found out to be PTSD, anxiety, and depression. Instead, I self-medicated with drugs and alcohol, called weekends when I couldn’t get out of bed “self-care Saturday and Sundays,” and developed an eating disorder to attempt to control at least one aspect of my otherwise uncontrollable life.
When we stigmatize the language surrounding mental illness, we can prevent others from getting help.
Because the word “crazy” is often used as a derogatory term, I was convinced I couldn’t speak up or ask for help or admit that I was struggling. At that time, for me, the only thing worse than suffering in silence was having someone think I had lost my mind.
It took seven years, a car accident that almost killed me, intense therapy, a year of medication, and the courage to cut certain people out of my life to realize that saying I live with depression, anxiety, and PTSD doesn’t mean I’m broken or “crazy.” It means I have experienced significant trauma in my life and the scars, though invisible, are real and will last forever. It means I am a complex human being, I have “good days” and “bad days,” and I don’t owe an explanation for either to anyone.
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 41,000 individuals take their own life each year. Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death among adults in the United States, and prevailing mental health stigma that deters those with mental illness from seeking the treatment and support they need and deserve undoubtedly kills people.
If we are to save lives, we must, as a society, combat this prevailing stigma and judgment by changing not only how we discuss mental illness, but how we speak about, well, anything else.
We cannot support the nearly 1 in 5 Americans who suffer from mental illness each year, if we continue to degrade those around us with our thoughtless language. If our cultural vernacular allows “crazy” to be a synonym for “bad,” “broken,” “unbelievable,” and, “dysfunctional,” more and more human beings will suffer in silence. More and more people will be lost to suicide, and we will only have ourselves and our inconsiderate words to blame.
If you or someone you know is struggling with depression or has had thoughts of harming themselves or taking their own life, get help. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255) provides 24/7, free, confidential support for people in distress, as well as best practices for professionals and resources to aid in prevention and crisis situations.
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