In her last post as an SNT Editor, Katie explores the impact the word “crazy” can have on those its aimed at and even those it’s not
I was speaking to a friend last month who has depression, and he was telling me about the struggle he faced admitting to people that has difficulties with his mental health.
He finds the societal idea that men are strong, that men are above experiencing anxiety and depression, can make his mental health worse. On top of struggling with his mental health, he also has to deal with the idea that he’s somehow a failure compared to other men.
A few days after the conversation, I found myself reading an article by Dr Nerdlove, a blogger who answers people’s dating questions and offers relationship advice to people of a geeky persuasion.
“What’s this got to do with nursing and mental health?” you ask… well, it doesn’t, usually, but this particular article was titled “Men really need to stop calling women crazy”. It was about how men often call women “crazy” as a quick-and-dirty way of saying “I think you’re overreacting” or “I think you’re too emotional”.
This makes the assertion that emotion and logic are opposites, that women are emotional compared to logical men, and that many people see being logical as good, and emotional bad.
Quote from original: “Women hear it all the time from men. “You’re overreacting,” we tell them. “Don’t worry about it so much, you’re over-thinking it.” “Don’t be so sensitive.” “Don’t be crazy.” It’s a form of gaslighting — telling women that their feelings are just wrong, that they don’t have the right to feel the way that they do. Minimizing somebody else’s feelings is a way of controlling them. If they no longer trust their own feelings and instincts, they come to rely on someone else to tell them how they’re supposed to feel.”
I read through the article a couple of times and realised that it doesn’t just apply to men talking about women, or even women talking about other women, but also women talking about themselves.
I have been known to call myself “crazy” in the past, to refer to my anxiety as “an attack of the crazies” - it makes light of it, it makes it easier to deal with carrying this bag of nerves around on difficult days. While coping strategies are great to have I’d never considered that making light of my experience in this way, to make it easier for me, might be damaging to other people.
As a student nurse, especially given that I’m on the mental health branch, I do have a degree of social responsibility to help not hinder in these situations.
Quote: “Many men are socialized to be disconnectedness from our emotions — the only manly feelings we’re supposed to show are stoic silence or anger. We’re taught that to be emotional is to be feminine.”
I realised as I read the article that as a woman, calling myself “crazy” is damaging not just to myself, but to other people too, of all genders. I may have used “crazy” about myself in a semi-affectionate way, the same way I used to refer to my antidepressants as “happy pills” - a tongue-in-cheek criticism of them because they never made *me* happy, but “I’m just joking” is not a get-out-of-jail-free card.
When “crazy” is used to put down women for having emotions, mental illness becomes the domain of women. The idea that men must be strong and not have mental health issues, much less *talk* about them, is reinforced.
“I’m just joking” is not a get-out-of-jail-free card
For the last month, I have made a conscious effort to not use the word “crazy” anymore, about myself or anybody else.
I hope that if nothing else I’ve said as mental health SNT editor stays with you, that this one thing alone makes some kind of difference to your practice, whatever branch you’re following. And your personal life too: “crazy” is not a pejorative to be aimed at anyone (but especially women), and it’s not something we should let slide when used by others, because when “crazy” is used against women, when the supposedly female act of having emotions is labelled as a bad thing, men with mental health problems face an even greater struggle.
Let’s put an end not just to men calling women crazy, but to everyone calling *anyone* crazy. Let’s put an end to having emotions being a bad thing.
It won’t happen overnight, but maybe it will happen in time for our children and grandchildren to feel safer saying “I’m finding it hard to cope right now.”
Katie Sutton is Student Nursing Times Editor for the mental health branch 2013/14