A friend of mine recently posted a meme on social media about how her home sometimes feels like an insane asylum. It got a lot of laugh emojis and a bunch of joking comments from other mutual friends of ours. I chose not to hit the like button. When you have spent a significant amount of time with a family member in real-life “insane asylums” (a.k.a. psych wards and residential treatment centers), that type of commentary becomes triggering and hurtful.
On a recent email thread of a small group of very close friends, in response to some funny comments in the midst of a particularly silly conversation, one asked the other if “her psychiatrist had upped her meds.” Most others in the group found that hysterical. I started to tear up and chose not to reply.
In a world where political correctness and social awareness have taken top billing, it baffles me that people still make comments like these without recognizing the insensitivity. Memes and jokes about “insane asylums” and psych meds and shock therapy are still pretty common. And it’s not ok.
No longer is it socially acceptable to use denigrating terms towards others that were once commonly accepted just a few decades ago. “Retard” is just one example (and I cringe just to write it here even for the purpose of illustration). Nobody with any type of moral compass would let that word pass their lips in this day and age. And yet, when it comes to offensive mental health terms, it seems we are still light years behind. While we are careful not to insult someone with a noticeable disability or difficulty, it does not occur to us that someone struggling with mental health deserves the same courtesy. Using words like “mental” or “psycho” to describe someone is standard banter. People will often declare dramatically “I’m going to kill myself!” because they’ve got too much homework or had a stressful day taking care of their kids. These types of accepted words or statements make light of situations that are all too serious for those of us dealing with real, diagnosed mood disorders or suicidality on a regular basis.
Think about if you were a parent who has had to watch your seemingly healthy, normal child struggle with medication doses to help stabilize her psychosis, spend months upon years in and out of psych hospitals, undergo shock therapy, and battle mental illness with every fiber of her being to get through each and every minute of every day. You have visited a child psych ward and listened to the schizophrenic mutterings, witnessed the mindless pacing, and heard the painful cries. And then, you had to walk away from your own suffering, innocent child, leaving them to be surrounded by those sights and sounds indefinitely while fighting their own demons. Well, let’s just say you wouldn’t be so quick to post on social media that your home is an “insane asylum” or make offhand comments about psych meds or shock therapy.
Putting Things in Perspective
I am perfectly aware that my good friends who made the comments mentioned above meant no harm. They know about my children’s struggles and have supported us wonderfully throughout them. Yet, they didn’t have a second thought about making this type of commentary, even in my presence. This fact only serves to illustrate my point that we are nowhere near as sensitive as we need to be about mental health terminology
I hate to be “one of those people” who insist on nitpicking about something that might not seem like such a big deal. I am not the type of person to be oversensitive. However, there is a difference between being oversensitive and hyper-aware. I am the latter. While I hate that I have become that way through my own personal experience and exposure, that is my reality. The best I can do with it is hope to be able to utilize my experiences for the betterment of the world.
We Can Fix This Together
Let us work together to bring mental health awareness beyond just the knowledge that people around us are struggling. That’s an important first step, but it’s just the beginning. Mental illnesses don’t discriminate on who they affect, just as physical illnesses don’t. Similarly, the realities and sensitivities towards mental health struggles need to equal those that we have towards physical health. You wouldn’t jokingly tell someone who shaved their head that they look like a cancer patient. You wouldn’t call someone who is recovering from a tragic head injury a retard. You wouldn’t joke about going on a drinking binge in front of a recovering alcoholic. Don’t tell someone who is being a bit silly that they belong in an “insane asylum”. Because trust me, I’ve been on the inside. And if your home actually felt like one… You wouldn’t be laughing.
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