Consider these words cancelled

In 7th grade I started a new school. One afternoon during gym class this girl came up to our teacher asking for tampons. She was pretty loud and like most of the other girls in my class I giggled. 

After gym I was walking with my friend Amanda to math. I said to her, "did you see that retarded girl in gym asking for tampons?"

"Yeah," she replied, "that's my sister". 

My heart sank into my stomach and my face started to flush. What had I just said? I apologized profusely to which she replied, "that's okay, I call her that all the time". 

I tell this story not to illustrate that pre-teen girls are incredibly insensitive but that many of the words we use commonly to describe a person or situation are hurtful and can contribute to the marginalization of individuals of all backgrounds living with a variety of conditions, illnesses and disabilities.  

Even with my friend's permission to use that word I've never said it again.

I'm still learning and continue to make flubs on this front (ask me sometime about when I realized I shouldn't use the expression crack the whip anymore...) We can all be more mindful about the language we use. 

Check yo self before you wreck yo self

Here are some words to check yourself before using:

“Crazy” or “nuts”

“Crazy” is a word that’s often used to describe women and which helps further the stereotype that women are “emotional” while men are “rational.” So next time instead of saying, "bitches be crazy", try out "bitches be trippin". 
Just kidding. 

“Insane” or “mental”

Calling someone “insane,” or “mental” isn’t just antiquated, it also conjures up images of a bygone era when we had “insane asylums,” and forced institutionalization was prevalent in the US. Today, the number of psychiatric hospitals has dwindled to less than a tenth of what it was in 1955, following the passage of new healthcare laws and documentation of severe patient abuse.


Watch the news and then drink each time a newscaster or public officer refers to a mass shooter as a “truly disturbed” individual? (No don't, worst idea for a drinking game ever). Identifying someone as “disturbed” suggests that the individual is dangerous, or a menace to society and further reinforces the stereotype that people living with mental illness are more likely to commit violent crimes. (BTW there is very little research literature,  to support that idea.)


Obsessive-compulsive disorder has somehow made it into everyday use in a way that greatly diminishes the severity of symptoms individuals living with this condition experience. People will say "I'm OCD" to express they like to be organized. True OCD affects nearly 1 in 40 adults and is characterized by repetitive, unwanted thoughts and compulsive actions that interfere with daily life.


Being moody or experiencing a change in attitude doesn’t mean you’re “so bipolar.” There are four different classifications of bipolar disorder which are characterized by dramatic high and low emotional states. These emotional states can range from mania to severe depression and differ dramatically from the typical “ups and downs,” an individual might experience throughout their life.

“I’m so depressed”

While almost 7 percent of the population in 2016 experienced at least one major depressive episode, the notion that being depressed is something that someone can “will” themselves out of persists. (PS you can't pray it away either). Depression isn’t feeling sad in a sad situation. To be diagnosed, individuals experiencing a major depressive episode must experience symptoms for more than two weeks and for most people, it impacts how they function on a day-to-day basis.

The reality is if someone actually meets the criteria for one or any of these disorders, it can be very hurtful when another person uses the term casually. (Think about the last time someone said to you 'I know exactly what you're going through' and you thought, 'the fuck you do') Casual references like this to a medical diagnosis help undermine the severity of certain disorders and contribute to greater shame around getting a mental health diagnosis says Dr. Lauren Herb, a clinical psychologist at Silver Lake Psychotherapy

Pure and simple - opt for language that's "people-first" and centers on the individual rather than their symptoms. And for the love of god, please don't use the word retarded when really you mean something else entirely. 


If you’d like to learn more about how you can help stop the stigma around mental illness, visit NAMI: The National Alliance on Mental Illness.






Christine Hicks