Tuesday, 1 May 2012

I Am Not A Nutter

Neither am I a psycho, mental, bonkers, bananas, a fruitcake, nutjob, batshit crazy, a loon or barking mad. I have a mental illness.

Now, when mental health workers encounter me, and I talk about my life and what's been going on in it, which admittedly isn't very much, they invariably bring up the fact that I'm well spoken, intelligent and erudite. It's as if it's come as a surprise to them that someone with a mental illness can have all these skills and qualities, can explain themselves and how they've managed their illness, so eloquently. I think some mental health workers, and the wider public, imagine that mental illness means you have to be a dribbling lunatic with a hygiene problem. True, some of my mentally ill friends do dribble, and some, including myself, have problems maintaining our hygiene day to day. But of my mentally ill acquaintances, one was an engineer, one is a mathematical genius, one is a polymath, one was a zookeeper, many are university graduates and most had ordinary working lives before illness set in.

But that means nothing to most people on the street. Mention mental illness and people seem to automatically think of the film 'Psycho', or the guy in 'Saw'. The media propagates this view, with stories of murders committed by people with schizophrenia, sieges and standoffs involving people whose mental health is fragile and they have 'gone over the edge'. The recent situation on Tottenham Court Road attests to that. On Twitter many people were referring to the man as a nutter, a loon, crazy, mental. There was no thought that this man may be having a nervous breakdown. No sympathy, only crude 'jokes' about the situation. It seems whenever someone experiences a breakdown, there is no succour, no understanding; just a labelling of the person in distress as a loony.

It's sad to me that I've suffered depression for just about 30 years, and in that time, there has been little significant shift in public perceptions of mental illness. Things have changed on a personal level; I can talk to friends and family about my depression, and my illness is accepted. But the rise of media crucifixion of disabled people as 'scroungers' has encouraged the 'pull yourself together' brigade and the 'just think positive' crowd to become more vocal, even into parliament. I don't think this has ever happened in our lifetimes, that both the hostile and hippy dippy factions of the mental health arena have converged to influence government policy.

Anyway, what I'm trying to say , in a roundabout, shambolic way, because this is my first ever mental health blog, and I'm rather depressed today, is that words hurt. They've hurt me for decades, and whenever I see people on social media, on the news, on topical discussion shows, and in the general public, refer to us as loons, mental cases, bananas, nutters, etc., it makes me sad and disappointed that people still think these insults are okay to use; especially since most of these people have zero clue what it actually means to live with a mental illness.


  1. Very honoured to have your first post as part of Blogging Against Disablism Day.

    I think mental health-related slurs are one area of language where people really don't think twice - and even those of us who might otherwise be described as "politically correct" in our use of language, will let slip some of these hurtful words. When Ricky Gervais used the word "mong", there was at least a fuss. Politicians can use the language of mental illness to insult one another and no-one batters an eyelid.

    Looking forward to future posts. :-)

  2. That was a really good read - thank you.

  3. As someone who has suffered from PTSD which manifested itself in a whole range of mental illness problems, I can identify with what your saying.

    I'm still receiving treatment for depression and probably will for the rest of my life. I too detest it when someone with a mental illness is subjected to this type of verbal disablism.

    Many thanks for posting this and, like The Goldfish, I thoroughly look forward to hearing more from you! :-)

  4. It's so sad that you get the sort of attitudes that you're writing about from anyone, but especially from your workers. I swear, I lose a bit more faith in the mental health services with each passing day.

    Like Gary, I'm in treatment for depression, and probably will be for the rest of my life. And I know plenty of more-than-capable people who manage their lives (and the lives of others, as parents or caregivers...or both)and who contribute a great deal to society, whether they do paid work or not. The disablism they put up with makes me sick. That "just think positive" malarky in particular really makes me irritated...like anyone would choose to feel the way I do when I'm depressed,if it was that easy to "pull myself out of it"?

    Hope that you keep writing...