“Hey, man. How are things with Jonie?”
“I don’t know, man. She just went crazy last week.”
Regardless of popular culture and the colloquialisms of our day and age, “going crazy” isn’t really possible; “insane” isn’t a synonym for awesome; and something being “nuts” doesn’t describe the out-of-control rager you went to last night.
Or at least it shouldn’t. Because all of these terms have their roots in valid mental health issues.
Let’s look to history. Although in modern vernacular, we use the word crazy to denote anything from a wild night to someone who is just a little strange, the word “crazy” has its origins in the 1570s, originally meaning “diseased’ or “sickly.”
The word “insane” originated in the 1550s and was applied to people “not well” or “not healthy.” In the German language tradition, the word insane comes from their verb for “to displace” and, according to an etymological dictionary, is said to have been applied to the human brain “as to a clock that is out of order”.
Clearly, words transcend the time periods from which they came. They transform to reflect dialects, cultural and generational shifts and the social, political and economic paradigms of the time. But I think it’s really important to recognize that our linguistic choices act as a vehicle for our beliefs and values; in selecting the words that escape our mouths, we display to whoever may be listening what we stand for.
So let’s take a minute to think about how we actually use these words: crazy, insane and the like. Personally, when I use these kinds of words, I’m usually describing events; maybe a concert that was really awesome or an extremely difficult workout. But I sometimes apply them to people, generally for hyperbolic purposes; to describe someone who really rubs me the wrong way or did something uncharacteristic or just plain strange.
But if you really think about it, these kinds of words are used to describe a genuine health issue. People with mental health issues aren’t “crazy” or “insane” in the way that modern language defines them. And using these words in such a way redefines and, quite frankly, makes a mockery of the true issue. By throwing around such vernacular, we indoctrinate and circumscribe their meaning in the context of our generation. And by doing so, we simultaneously and subconsciously redefine the true issue that they represent—that of mental health.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, only 33.8 percent of the American population with anorexia is actually receiving treatment; 50.9 percent for mood disorders; 39 percent for personality disorders. 13.4 percent of the total U.S. adult population is receiving mental health service or treatment.
By no means do I care to imply that mental health issues are caused by our word choices. But perhaps if our culture provided a more accepting and understanding culture, the 26.2 percent of Americans ages 18 and over with a diagnosable mental illness would feel more comforted and willing to ask for the help that they need.
We have got to take care of one another. It is in our human nature to be empathetic, and according to the aforementioned statistics, it’s just a fact that you aren’t alone. One in four Americans have some type of mental health related illness; chances are whoever you choose to talk to is either going through something similar, or knows someone who has.
We have the responsibility to create a community that promotes longevity and happiness in all aspects of life. And if making a simple change in the vocabulary that we use can make a difference in that regard, then I think that’s something that we can all commit to.
Language is a social construction. And along with its classification as such comes the fact that words are imbued with the power that we give them. The more times we use terms such as “crazy” and “insane” the more we are endorsing a culture that makes light of mental illness.
Don’t forget the myriad of resources that are available to you through our University and otherwise. Call CSU Counseling Services at (970) 491-6053 to schedule an appointment or stop by their office located at 123 NW Aylesworth Hall. You can also call the CSU Mental Health Crisis Intervention center at (970) 491-7111 or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK to speak with someone at any time about emotional distress.
CSU provides a multitude of other resources in hopes of supporting its students in the best way possible; take advantage of that.
Geneva Mueller is a senior political science and international studies double major. Letters and feedback can be sent to email@example.com.