Stop calling Donald Trump crazy.
That's the message from former first lady of California and activist Maria Shriver, who took people to task for using the word as a pejorative. In an op-ed titled "Think Twice Before You Call Someone Crazy," which she says was inspired by a similar piece her cousin Patrick Kennedy wrote for The Washington Post, Shriver insisted that such words cannot and should not be thrown around lightly.
"He said that using that word, 'crazy,' in our public discourse demeans those who suffer from real mental health issues and further discourages them from seeking help," she wrote in the opening of her piece. "He's so right. Words matter. They hurt, they demean, and their effects can last a lifetime."
Shriver went on to suggest that this election has brought out the worst in many Americans. She emphasized the fact that we've all been called mean names and disparaging things that have stuck with us. In the worst cases, those disparaging words inform the way we view ourselves.
In Kennedy's piece, the former U.S. congressman emphasized another important point: labeling someone "crazy" or "insane" risks shaming them into not seeking help, which can be dangerous. In fact, the president of the American Psychiatric Association (APA) Maria A. Oquendo made this abundantly clear in a blog post for the association.
"The unique atmosphere of this year's election cycle may lead some to want to psychoanalyze the candidates," Oquendo wrote in the post. "But to do so would not only be unethical, it would be irresponsible."
Our national conversation about mental health is becoming more and more prominent, revived most recently due to the spate of gun violence. But experts are telling us the last thing we should do is make pseudo-diagnoses from afar. Using words like "crazy" to describe Donald Trump doesn't just promote vigilante "psychiatry," it lets the word seep into our daily lives. And that, writes Kennedy, is a giant risk of its own.
"Crazy" is never uttered with compassion. I have never heard it used in the context of trying to get someone the treatment they need. When that language is commonplace, it becomes that much harder for those experiencing mental illness to openly seek treatment that works. It discriminates, in subtle and overt ways, and extends its reach into schools, workplaces and the health-care system, where we still don't provide routine mental health exams. When we use that word the way we have, we perpetuate the dangerous, "separate and unequal" treatment of these illnesses, and continue to pretend that the brain isn't part of the body.
So though it's perfectly OK to criticize the policy and rhetoric of a presidential candidate, attacking his or her mental state will only serve to further alienate the people in our lives who have been diagnosed with mental illness.
Shriver ended her piece with her favorite aphorism. It speaks to her message perfectly, and is something we strive to live up to here at A Plus: "Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle."
Cover photo via Flickr / Gage Skidmore and Shutterstock.
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