You Must Be Mad!

How many times have you heard it?

He’s mad!


She’s a looney!

You can add to this list words and phrases such as crazy, round the bend, insane, nuts, nutter, off his or her rocker and much more. Language is powerful and if you are anything like me then you have used it carelessly before now. Language is like a cultural window. What we accept without thinking in terms of the spoken and written word reveals that which we are.

I have often paralleled the struggle for acceptance faced by the mentally ill with that of the rights of gay people. My best friend as I grew up was gay and seeing his world change over the years as our society adjusts itself to orient itself favourably towards homosexuals has been a privilege and a pleasure. I hope to live long enough to see the same happen for those with mental illness.

Below is a video excerpt taken from an edition of BBC Question Time in 2012. This features Will Young, among others, talking about gay rights, and in particular something said on the BBC Today radio programme by an awful, repulsive vicar who described gay marriage as an abomination and who likened it to slavery.

What Will Young does in this video is attack one prejudice with another. He particularly highlights the use of the word “gay” as an insult in schools, and dismisses this man by doing exactly the same thing when it comes to the words he uses, specifically “mad” and “crazy”.

The use of the word “gay” in the way in which Young describes is something I experienced first hand at school it was extremely unpleasant and had a detrimental effect upon my education. I would argue that the socially acceptable allusion to anything relating to mental illness as a negative thing has the same destructive effect upon a vulnerable group of people. I have never heard a single person challenged upon their usage of such language. It seems to me to be completely acceptable to regard mental illness as the ultimate expression of all that is unwanted in terms of what a person might suffer in life. That a man can argue so eloquently in favour of the rights of one vulnerable group by denigrating another one shows where we are as a society. The status of the mentally ill is, in my estimation, similar to that of gay people at a time when it was illegal to be gay and being homosexual was essentially a social death sentence and often a literal death sentence.

This problem is the essence of my reason for writing this blog. I know that there are children going through schools now for whom growing up is extremely difficult. They are dealing with things within themselves such as suicidal feelings, serious depression, psychosis and other serious, chronic and debilitating symptoms. Add to that prejudice and a stigma, both of which are considered entirely socially acceptable and completely normal, and which serves to make the mentally ill outcasts and it is not hard to see how awful the lives of mentally ill people can be, particularly schoolchildren.

Just as we have begun to make a better world for gay people, I long for a better world for my people, and I hope that I live long enough to see it.

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