“OMG you were so mental last night.”“Traffic is mental.”“That new Donald Trump bill shows how mental he is.”“Did you see what she’s done now? Mental or what?”Crazy, mental, insane, mad. These words are used as common descriptions of something negative. Something wild, unexpected, lack of self-control, not normal, a fault with someone’s mental health. Despite having connotations with straitjackets and asylums, they've become a part of everyday speech. But this isn't a good thing. Rather than normalising the language surrounding mental illness, the use of these words, and countless others like them, continue to reinforce the popular idea that the surreal, odd, different and scary is associated with mental illness.
But today I’m taking particular disdain with mental.
No, your tidiness is not OCD. And no, feeling happy and then sad does not make you bipolar. And depression is not a feeling; it is a state of being.
And I’m sorry to make you check your dictionary, but calling everything unusual, or that differs to your view of society, ‘mental’ is also not okay.
What's so bad about mental?
The Oxford English Dictionary says:
UsageThe use of mental in compounds such as mental hospital and mental patient was the normal accepted term in the first half of the 20th century. It is now, however, regarded as old-fashioned, sometimes even offensive, and has been largely replaced by the term psychiatric in both general and official useBloomsbury's fourth edition of Tony Thorne's Dictionary of Contemporary Slang lists polar opposite meanings of "mental": first as "mentally ill, subnormal" and secondly as "exciting, dynamic, excellent". (Source) Subnormal but also excellent? Sign me up please!
Using the word 'mental' in your everyday speech to describe an event, an object, or a person shows your ignorance. Language is the foundation that stigma is built on. The way we speak about something shows our level of knowledge, interest and respect. When we talk about mental health, we don't mean exciting health. Boy, I wish we did. It means the health of your mind, your emotional wellbeing, and everything that comes with it - your thought processes, feelings, acts and thoughts.
I have always shunned away from and dissociated myself from the word ‘mental’. Its societal connotations are profoundly negative: I’m crazy, bad, other, ‘not normal’, insane, a risk, dangerous, ill.
But maybe it’s time we embrace the term? Rather than hear it as an insult, could it be reclaimed, like how the LGBT community reclaimed the slur ‘queer’. The long history of abuse experienced by the LGBT community has been synonymised with this one word.
In many ways, mental has become synonymised with the history of mental illness and confining the people we deem ‘different’. We need to start thinking about how to take back ‘mental’.
This is what 'mental' looks like
This is what mental looks like. A 24 year old Irish woman with a full-time job who also has depression and anxiety. I like books and selfies and facts. I watch a lot of TV and love the outdoors. I have four pets. I have bad days and I have good days. I have more good days than bad, thank god. But it hasn’t always been this way. I take medication every day.
I know that 100 years ago I probably would have been committed to a mental hospital and deemed 'mental', and that’s okay. It's okay because it means society has more acceptance for mental illness now, albeit limited acceptance, and that’s progress.
You see, I’ve been mental for as long as I remember. I've never felt 'normal'. It's not a bad thing, it doesn't make me scary or dangerous. In fact, being 'mental' is what's normal for me.