I had a pang of conscience immediately after posting a tweet this week. It was regarding HR 3. I said pro-choice activists should focus their attention on the 200+ members who weren’t co-sponsors of the bill — “because obviously #dearjohn and his ilk are nuts.”
I felt bad afterward that I had used “nuts” so casually because I read something not that long ago saying that use of terms such as nuts, crazy, schizo, psychotic, and insane for people without mental health issues can cheapen serious health problems. I know people who struggle with their mental health, and I wouldn’t want to belittle them at all. Am I taking political correctness too far?
Craig Ferguson made the point a few years ago, when Britney Spears was acting erratically, that he would not be using her problems as fodder for his act, because clearly she was unstable. He considered most celebrities fair game, but didn’t think it was appropriate to poke fun at someone who had lost her grip on reality.
So what do we call people who might be technically sane but whose ideas are far outside the mainstream? People like Chris Smith of New Jersey, who says abortion isn’t health care? Or Sue Lowden of Nevada, who proposed bartering chickens for doctors’ appointments? Sharron Angle, who thinks rape victims should make lemonade out of lemons by carrying their rapists’ children to term? Do we find a new language that doesn’t have connotations of mental health?
This conversation is also timely because terms such as these come up after tragic shootings such as the one in Tucson on Jan. 8. People have said Jared Loughner, the shooter, is disturbed, deranged, crazy, insane. I watched a video he made while walking around his community college, and something was clearly wrong. He wasn’t in touch with reality. However, I think it’s easy to dismiss him as crazy or psychotic when the only difference between him and many other mental health patients is that he was violent.
I don’t know the answer to any of these questions, but I think it’s a discussion we need to be having. For hundreds of years, people with mental and developmental issues were shut away in institutions so society could pretend they didn’t exist. In 2011, we know better, but we can also be doing a better job to acknowledge that there shouldn’t be any shame or stigma attached to mental health.