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Policing Mental Illness Out of the Teenage Insult List

seals-fightSociety is finally at a point where we cringe when a teenager beside you in line at the grocery store declares something is “so gay” or “so retarded.”

But that hasn’t stopped it from happening all too frequently. And as a recent Double X post regarding an article that described Barack Obama’s action in Afghanistan as a “a case study in presidential schizophrenia” points out it may be time we start expanding the list of taboo words for teenage insults.

Emily Yoffe of Double X is asking for the removal of schizophrenic from the non-medical lexicon rather than keying in on teens. Says Yoffe, “I often see the word schizophrenia used to describe conflicting impulses in mentally healthy people, but this does a disservice to our understanding of this devastating disease.”

In that vein, it’s time to start describing mental illnesses to our kids AS diseases.

Because while I’ve yet to hear a child degrade a friend with words like “diabetic” or “victim of high blood pressure,” words like “schizoid” enjoy frequent outings on the insult train.

The usage of these sorts of terms in the general adult population – from Rahm Emanuel’s “retard” comment to the one referenced by Yoffe – are proof enough that parents don’t have this conversation with their kids. Mental illness treatment may have come a long way, but the public’s attitude is still one of benign disbelief. The Tom Cruises of the world, with their insistence that moms can take some vitamins to avoid post partum depression, provide just the ammunition our kids need to continue denigrating the real struggles of the mentally ill by reducing them to a playground epithet.

Much like the folks at Nurture Shock shook parents up last year with the evidence that we need to have active conversations about race, an attitude of not addressing mental illness only fosters children’s belief that it’s something bad, an easy target.

Image: alan vernon, flickr

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