It’s Just A Word

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?


  1. I have had bipolar since age 19. There have been ups and downs. You rest on a continuum somewhere between healthy and ill all the time. Everybody does, sane or insane. Since age 19, I have had about six bouts of mania and seven bouts of depression. I’ve been on maintenance meds all of my adult life and don’t cycle as quickly as I did in my youth. The only word adequate to describe a episode is crazy. What does it mean? Disorganized thinking. Disorganized behavior. Deranged, wild or aggressive, reclusive and despondent, extremely enthusiastic. It’s just another word. Call me crazy, but I love the word.

    And in the words of Gnarls Barkley:
    I remember when, I remember, I remember when I lost my mind
    There was something so pleasant about that place.
    Even your emotions had an echo
    In so much space

    And when you’re out there
    Without care,
    Yeah, I was out of touch
    But it wasn’t because I didn’t know enough
    I just knew too much

    Does that make me crazy?
    Does that make me crazy?
    Does that make me crazy?

    And I hope that you are having the time of your life
    But think twice, that’s my only advice

    Come on now, who do you, who do you, who do you, who do you think you are,
    Ha ha ha bless your soul
    You really think you’re in control

    Well, I think you’re crazy
    I think you’re crazy
    I think you’re crazy
    Just like me

    My heroes had the heart to lose their lives out on a limb
    And all I remember is thinking, I want to be like them
    Ever since I was little, ever since I was little it looked like fun
    And it’s no coincidence I’ve come
    And I can die when I’m done

    Maybe I’m crazy
    Maybe you’re crazy
    Maybe we’re crazy

    Uh, uh

  2. I agree. That saying is as ridiculous as “Finders Keepers Losers Weeper.” I think the word crazy has uses as an adjective or adverb – as in “That was a crazy thing to do” but shouldn’t be used to define someone with a psychiatric condition.

  3. Marina Cross · · Reply

    I decided to respond to your post because, having grown up in a chaotic, abusive “home” those “words grow on you like leeches-so many people are unable or have the where with all to out grow those words. So yeah, this kind of struck a nerve, even after all these years. But the other side of the coin was developing a sense of empathy and sympathy and the desire to help others. Thanks for the writing, Jim.

    1. Very well said, Marina. Those words, over time do become like leeches. Said enough, you get to believe maybe they are true.

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