Remember the old children’s verse; sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me? Well, I’m calling bullshit on that one. One ill-chosen word has weight and is capable of inflicting a hurtful sting. String a few of these words together and lives are impacted.
Last week I posted about a setting in a manuscript I’m writing and it featured a mental health treatment unit in prison. Prison treatment for the mentally ill is a stark, loud and difficult place for both staff and the inmates in these specialized units. In my title of the post, I used the word “crazy” and this was a poor choice on my part.
A reader commented on my word choice and upon reflection, I have to admit, she was correct. This isn’t an instance of political correctness, or censorship (of a pick-the-letter word that we can no longer use). It’s about the stigma that the word presents on a medical/psychological problem that someone is suffering from. They didn’t choose to be schizophrenic, or suicidal. They didn’t go rob a corner market to get money to buy psychosis.
The stigma of labeling mental illness with a neat little word could be the very thing that stops someone from seeking the treatment they need to get their life back on track. The thought, or fear of being considered broken or crazy is enough to diminish the real pain these people suffer, wherever they happen to be — in prison or in our communities.
If you’re completely honest with yourself, you know someone, or have experienced a bout of mental illness, depression, anxiety, or self-destructive behavior. “Crazy” makes it easy to make light of the issue, and diminish the people who suffer.
Words have weight and words hurt. Look at our political campaigns, or ISIS propaganda if you don’t think they do. Done right, words are weapons to bring down kingdoms or establish democracy. How will you choose your words?