Paul Dodenhoff writes on why it is important to eradicate derogatory terms regarding mental illness and mental impairment.
Any internet 'urban' dictionary flags up the word 'nutjob' as generally referring to a person that is indeed 'crazy' or 'nuts'.
Many able-bodied people tend to conflate mental Illness and mental impairment, mistaking the two to be the same.
In a Telegraph headline on Monday 14th Sept. Assistant editor Jeremy Warner published a piece on the British Labor Party's new leader and his choice of John McDonnell in his opposition 'cabinet', entitled "Corbyn has just appointed a nutjob as shadow chancellor ". The piece came in for rightful criticism with many believing the use of the term 'nutjob' to be offensive, generating complaints that it was being derogatory of the mentally ill. Jeremy Warner himself took to Twitter to try to justify his choice of words:
"Getting lots of abuse for using the term "nutjob" about new shadow Chancellor. Not sure why anyone would think it derogatory of mentally ill".
"Lots of offense about my use of "nutjob". Mental illness didn't even cross my mind. U have to a bit sensitive to think that's what I meant"
However, Jeremy later apologized for the headline, again via Twitter, and with a terse acknowledgment that the term may indeed have been offensive.
So, is using such terminology really offensive or have we in the UK just gone a bit over the top by being too 'sensitive' or perhaps too PC, as Mr Warner first suggested? To answer that question we first need to look into what the word actually means within British society, and looking up the word via a good old fashioned dictionary or indeed by the wonders of 'google', should point newspaper editors in the right direction.
Any internet 'urban' dictionary flags up the word 'nutjob' as generally referring to a person that is indeed 'crazy' or 'nuts'. Similarly, in the English Oxford Dictionary, 'nutjob' is defined as referring to a mad or crazy person, and an American version of the dictionary also has the term referring to a mad or foolish person. So, quite simply, anybody using the term 'nutjob' would most likely be using it in a derogatory way to indicate somebody who is thought to be mentally crazy, deficient or foolish in some way.
However, Mr Warner originally felt that he was not intentionally using the term to describe somebody as 'mad' or 'crazy' in the sense of having some kind of mental illness or some kind of mental impairment, nor did he set out to offend people with mental health issues or impairment. While that may be or not be the case, Mr Warner was certainly trying to undermine John McDonnell's ability as a politician (and one who could actually be running the UK's economy in the future) by not only painting him as an inappropriate choice as 'shadow chancellor', but an inappropriate choice by insinuating that he was mentally incapable of being in such a position.
Jeremy Warner is not the only British Newspaper editor to use a similar nasty tactic to imply some kind of mental incapability or impairment to Brits who happen to hold political views that differ from those of Britain's dominant political elite. For example, if you hold anything that might be vaguely considered to be 'socialist' beliefs, either as a politician or as an ordinary citizen within Britain, you will more likely than not be designated part of the 'loony' left wing of British politics. Interestingly, while Britain is perceived by our media to have a 'left wing' and a 'loony left wing' at that, anybody on the right wing of British politics usually escapes such negative name calling and are simply known as politicians - not 'right wing' politicians. A not so subtle form of 'brainwashing' that unfortunately may have some influence on how we Brits actually discern what is to be a viable and logical political agenda and what is a 'loony' or 'foolish' one.
In the last general election more than 11 million Brits voted for a Government hell bent on eliminating European Human rights legislation for British citizens, and within the next five years of parliament. Something which is not being portrayed as a 'loony' or 'foolish' thing to do by Britain's media, but something that is portrayed as a logical, essential act - and one primarily designed to stop 'loony' European politicians from interfering in the way Britain treats its own citizens. However, if 11 million people within the UK can actually bring themselves to vote for a party that is planning to potentially erode their human rights, surely something is amiss with the questioning power we Brits may use in our own decision making practices - or are we just far too trusting of our 'right-wing' politicians?
While we may all be guilty of using words like 'mad', 'crazy', 'loopy' or 'mental' in order to describe events, situations, our jobs, our lives or our relationships - once we use those terms in order to describe specific people, then those words take on a different tone entirely. Primarily, the negative imagery surrounding mental illness or mental impairment is arguably so deep rooted within British society, it is considered as a 'normative' way of describing people who are perceived to look or act differently from the 'norm'. And arguably we can all easily fall into the trap of using terminology that is actually a stereotypical shortcut for simply misunderstanding whole groups of people.
There is also an old phrase within British society that goes something like: "Sticks and Stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me" - a saying that is pretty much self-explanatory. Unfortunately, while getting hit with sticks and stones may certainly physically hurt, negative words can also do damage that can not only be long lasting, but may also have a great impact on people's lives that they can never actually shake off.
People with mental health issues or some kind of mental impairment, often flag up the abusive names they get called by some members of the general public - terms such as 'mental', 'crazy', 'bonkers', 'retard', 'loony', 'nutter', 'head case', 'simpleton', 'fool' and 'mong'. All derogatory terms that are regarded as referring to people perceived to be displaying some kind of mental incompetence, irrationality or untrustworthiness. Abusive names and terms that are not only hurtful but are often inaccurate, and may impact upon a person's life so dramatically that people may be denied employment, housing and meaningful relationships simply because of them.
As we seen at the beginning of this article, a major British newspaper is implying that a 'nutjob' should not be in the position of 'shadow chancellor', something which may mirror many people's actual views of mental illness or mental impairment - somebody incapable of being in a position of responsibility. Other recent examples of such name calling include the former foreign office minister and Conservative peer, Sayeeda Warsi announcing in a BBC interview in July that Islamic extremists were 'nutcases'. While The Daily Express recently referred to a Brazilian UN human rights representative as the 'Brazil Nut'.
Name calling that not only uses the imagery of mental illness to undermine an alternative political argument, but backfires mainly onto those with actual mental health issues or impairment - painting them either as unstable, irresponsible and/or potentially dangerous. Which does nothing for eradicating negative attitudes towards mental illness nor impairment. Interestingly, while previous research points to the general public generally being fearful of those with mental health issues, it is not a fear generated by actually witnessing violent events or episodes in real life, but a fear of violence that previous research indicates is indeed generated by the media itself.
Many able-bodied people tend to conflate mental Illness and mental impairment, mistaking the two to be the same. However, while there is a clear distinction between the two, both social groups face consistently negative attitudes towards them. And while surveys indicate that attitudes towards both mental illness and mental impairment may have improved slowly over the years, there is a growing body of evidence to indicate that both groups still experience the negative attitudes of others as a significant daily barrier in their lives.
If Britain's newspapers are using the 'urban' terminology surrounding mental illness in order to score political points off those holding a different political ideology, then despite the protestations otherwise, these actions will also only work to undermine any improvement in negative attitudes held towards mental health issues or impairment that have been made over the past number of years.
Ironically, while such newspapers are using derogatory tactics in order to paint those on the left wing of British politics as 'nutcases' and 'nutjobs', it is those 'nutjobs' that are actually doing the most to improve the lives of Brit's perceived to have mental health issues or mental impairment. For example, one of the first acts performed by Corbyn as leader of the Labor Party has been to create the position of Minister for Mental Health. Luciana Berger is therefore the first person ever to hold this position in the UK and there is no counterpart in the Conservative government. Mr Corbyn's creation of the role therefore makes a very clear statement about how mental health will be treated by the current opposition and the next Labor government. And it's a creation of a role that also puts pressure on the current government to follow the same path. Britain's newspapers should take note.