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Ian D. Jones


I recently had an online discussion with a friend on what constitutes “stigma” when it comes to mental health. Their reaction to the shooting in Las Vegas was, to very slightly paraphrase, “crazy people are crazy, and we need to limit their access to guns.”

“The gun thing aside, that’s painting a lot of people with a pretty wide brush, which is stigmatizing. First, let’s wait for the person’s doctor or family to speak on their specific diagnosis, and then, let’s define ‘crazy,’” I said.

We never got farther than that – which, to be honest, is OK by me, because the phrase is, as I said, stigmatizing. More on that later

When I brought up statistics from the National Alliance on Mental Illness showing how the mentally ill are actually at a higher risk of actually being the victims, not the perpetrators of violence, the conversation came to a screeching halt. The person refused to consider the facts, and was convinced I was saying the Vegas shooter was “sane” (which I wasn’t, and which is actually a legal term, not a psychological term.)

The irony is, I’m connected to advocacy groups like NAMI.

Where exactly do people draw the line on “crazy?” Is it someone with anxiety, which, according to the American Psychological Association is the top mental health concern among college students, at 41 percent? Depression? (which affects nearly 37 percent of college students,) Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder? Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (which I could write another column on?) Schizophrenia? People with any of these disorders are more likely to self-medicate and/or self-harm, according to NAMI. Anger issues aren’t actually a psychologically diagnosable thing, so they’re also out of the discussion.

There are people who buy the silliest things on eBay – often for ridiculous prices — Is that “crazy?” We can’t say that people who seem to talk to themselves are “crazy” because people often use ear buds during cellphone calls, and they’re actually talking to someone – or they’re asking Siri what zero divided by zero is.

When I’m out working with my camera, I often think out loud. If I’m composing a photo, I’ll sometimes blurt out “No, that won’t work.” Does that make me “crazy?” Not only that, but who hasn’t walked into a room, looked around and said, “Uh, why did I come in here?”

Saying someone is “crazy” is too vague, even for someone who kills. Any time you go to the doctor with a cough, does he automatically put you in quarantine because there’s a chance you might have typhoid? No, they run tests to determine exactly what’s wrong.

We live in a “quick fix” society. We want a label on everything, and fast. Unofficial terms like “crazy,” and former medical terms like “dumb,” “retarded” and “dull” though, are reckless, given the number of people in the country have or know someone with some sort of mental illness.

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