Mind Your Language Katy Perry

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Have you ever heard or seen a word or phrase that made you feel intensely uncomfortable with who you are?

Until about eight years ago, I had never been on the receiving end of discriminatory language. And yet it managed to find a way into my white, straight, agnostic, charmed life. The first time it happened, I was walking through a shopping centre. The words assaulted me suddenly, shook the breath out of me: ‘PSYCHO BITCH’

Emblazoned on a woman’s black T-shirt in hot pink. They wobbled with her breasts as she walked.

I felt like I was going to be sick. Heat rushed into my face. I had only just recovered from a psychotic episode. Suddenly, the word ‘Psycho’ was embedded in my brain. Was it short for psychotic? psychopathic? It didn’t matter. All I knew was that the word ‘Psycho’ was inextricably linked to the word ‘Bitch’. And that meant I was a Psycho Bitch.

Derogatory language to describe mental illness is age-old and entrenched deeply in our everyday conversations. Words like ‘the nut house’, ‘the psycho ward’, ‘going mental’ ‘committing suicide’ ‘going schizo’. The list goes on: nuts, loony, loony bin, screw loose, bonkers, nutcase, nutter, off their rocker, basket case, whack job, lunatic, cuckoo…I could keep going, but I try and work to a word limit.

Even needing an appointment with a psychiatrist or psychologist is often joked about. This language, and the way we use it, insidiously perpetuates stigma surrounding mental illness and mental health care. The words are often used humorously, which minimises and even completely sweeps aside the suffering experienced by people who have a mental illness. Or they are used in an openly derogatory manner to express distaste or disgust.

Even patients’ interactions are sometimes rife with hypocrisy in this area.

When I was an inpatient in the mother baby unit of the hospital, one of the other mothers bemoaned the lack of understanding of her Postnatal Depression shown by her family. Then in the next breath she turned to me and said:

‘At least we’re not like the real crazies in the rest of the hospital.’

I was too shocked to respond.

I know many people who have been or are going through mental illness who joke about it. Sometimes humour is part of their defence mechanism and necessary for their recovery. Everyone must find their own way to communicate and express themselves.

That said, I don’t believe in joking about mental illness with people who haven’t experienced it. Mental illness is perceived differently to other diseases and disorders. Not everyone believes it even exists. If sufferers of mental illness joke about their illness with people who have never gone through it, it gives the rest of the world permission not to take our experience seriously. Sometimes sitting with our own discomfort of taking it seriously will encourage the person we’re talking to, to do the same.

I do joke about my illness with close friends who have also experienced mental illness, but I won’t belittle them, or myself, or minimise the illness in the process. I don’t make these jokes with people who haven’t been through it, because to do so legitimises language that doesn’t speak my truth.

I alluded to Katy Perry in the title of this piece. Her song Hot N Cold is just one example of popular culture serving up ideas about mental illness that are not always accurate or respectful. The lyric I’m referring to is:

‘Someone call the doctor. Gotta case of a love bipolar.’

One could argue this use of the word bipolar is a metaphor to describe fluctuating behaviour in a romantic relationship. But preceding this phrase with ‘Someone call a doctor’, implies the actual illness. The casual use of the word, even as a literary device, suggests Bipolar Disorder is not a real illness – just a changing mind

‘…like a girl changes clothes’.

The girl changing clothes in this song has control over her mind. Someone who is unwell with Bipolar Disorder does not have complete control over theirs.

We are more aware of how we use language than ever before. But we are nowhere near eliminating discriminatory language around mental health and illness from our vernacular. We can start by questioning what popular culture serves us, or by pointing out that suicide is not a crime when the word ‘committed’ has been put carelessly in front of it. And we can think carefully before joking about another human being’s suffering.

The language we use to refer to mental illness is powerful. It can perpetuate the existing stigma, or it can shape acceptance, tolerance, and understanding for future generations. We don’t get to choose whether we are landed with a mental illness. But we do get to choose how we talk about it.

Let’s choose not just wisely, but kindly.

Telling People

Talking About Mental Illness With Children

ECT: Blowing up some myths – Part 1

ECT: Blowing up some myths – Part 2

 

Author: anitalinkthoughtfood

Writer, Mental Health Advocate, Veterinarian For more, visit me at Thought Food.

9 thoughts on “Mind Your Language Katy Perry”

  1. This is a very important and pertinent piece.
    I remember clearly when our language was casually peppered with derogatory words for

    migrants…gays…black people…aboriginal people…children of mixed racial marriages…children of single mothers…etc….etc….

    SOME of these words wouldn’t be used in today’s time because of education, and the shift away from them has been successful enough to show people they were unkind, derogatory and discriminatory.
    So educating people about language can work. Language IS powerful.
    Let’s be aware of it. Good language can create a happier, more peaceful, more understanding, more accepting world.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I actually found the song pretty accurately described my relationship, where I believe I was dealing with a Cluster B. They do make you feel like that. I believe it is their intention to trigger mental illness. I found the song soothing. I knew I wasn’t the only one being made to feel that way by a relationship.
    I suspected Katie Perry knew something about dealing with a toxic partner. Perhaps it wasn’t a good choice of words but these characters do intend you to believe you have mental health issues. I have a good friend who is bi polar and she is actually very stable.

    Like

    1. Thank you for taking the time to read and comment on this post. The wonderful thing about song lyrics is that we are all free to interpret them in light of our own experiences and there is not necessarily a wrong or right. If you found the song soothing, then that is what it was meant to do for you. For me, the lyrics were thought provoking and relevant to this post about discriminatory language surrounding mental illness.

      I disagree that it is ever anyone’s intention to trigger a mental illness in someone else. Cluster B personality disorders are often serious mental illnesses in their own right. These disorders can make it very difficult for sufferers to have functional relationships, especially if they don’t have insight into their illness or access to good quality mental health care.There is no doubt it can be difficult to live with someone who has an undiagnosed or poorly managed mental illness. It then becomes a choice of whether it is worth trying to support that person, or whether you need to leave for the sake of your own mental health. There are no easy answers.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. It’s so important to remember how people interpret what you’re saying, even if it’s not what you mean. Social media is making it easier and easier to forget, so thank you for posting this.

    Like

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