Friday, July 20, 2012

You Drive me Crazy...

**Update 12/14/12: There has been another shooting, this one at an elementary school.  I have published a Part 2 to this post in relation to that incident.**

Hey, I just met you, and this is crazy,
But here's my number, so call me maybe?

I have struggled with mental illnesses for the majority of my life.  Severe depression and crippling anxiety have become my constant companions in the roller coaster ride of my life.  I have had a couple of nervous breakdowns.  I have contemplated suicide.  I am what you would probably call certifiably crazy.

Mental wounds not healing,
Who and what's to blame?
I'm going off the rails on a crazy train.
I'm going off the rails on a crazy train.

As a certifiably crazy person, you know what irritates me?  Someone commits an act of violence, and they are automatically assumed to be mentally ill.  After the attempted assassination of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, the shooter was assumed to be a crazed nutjob even before they had a suspect in custody.  Indeed, Jared Lee Loughner was later determined to be schizophrenic and found incompetent to stand trial (as of the date of this post).  But why the sudden rush to judge his mental capacity?

I remember when, I remember
I remember when I lost my mind.
There was something so pleasant about that place.
Even your emotions have an echo in so much space.

Early this morning, I was awakened by a series of notifications going off on my phone informing me of the tragic shooting that occurred at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado.  And again, people - whether in the halls of government or on the internet in venues such as Facebook and Twitter - are automatically pinning the suspect, James Holmes, as crazy.  According to CNN, the governor of Colorado "said the attack was the work of a 'very deranged mind.'"  Why the sudden rush to judge his mental capacity?

Insane in the membrane,
Insane in the brain!
Insane in the membrane,
Insane in the brain!

The simple fact of the matter is that mentally ill people are more likely to be victims rather than perpetrators of violent crimes.  This study produced the following results:


Nine studies, including 5195 patients, were identified. Prevalence estimates of criminal victimization ranged from 4.3% to 35.04%. Rates of victimization among severely mentally ill persons were 2.3-140.4 times higher than those in the general population. Criminal victimization was most frequently associated with alcohol and/or illicit drug use/abuse, homelessness, more severe symptomatology, and engagement in criminal activity.
[emphasis mine]

Society (particularly US society) has made great efforts to "other" mentally ill people.  Just like with other conditions, mental illness occurs over a spectrum.  There are people like me, who, 90% of the time, can appear and function like the "normals."  Then there are people who, 90% of the time, have to be supervised to make sure they don't hurt themselves or others.  And there are thousands of degrees between.

Anymore, anymore, cannot take it anymore,
Gotta get away from this stone cold floor.
Stone cold crazy, you know.

When you automatically associate violent criminals with mental illness, you imply that ONLY people with mental illnesses could perpetrate such violent crime.  You "other" mentally ill people by implicitly asserting that "normal" people could never do such a thing...surely one of the "crazies" must be responsible.

Just remember - when you denigrate one mentally ill person, you are denigrating us all.  And we will speak out.

Crazy...I'm crazy for feeling so lonely...
I'm crazy...crazy for feeling so blue.


  1. Great post! I see your POV - Crazy is used a lot, for many things  - is it a word to avoid like Tranny, N word, retarded etc? Should "tetched", "French fry short of a Happy meal" be used instead? It's all very intriguing to me, since I've never thought of it in the derogatory category.

  2. I think you have to be very careful in your usage of it. To use it in an offhand way can be offensive (the same as using "gay" or "retarded" to mean stupid). But I think attempts to reclaim it or try to put a face on it ("I am one of the crazy people") can be acceptable in certain circumstances.

    As for alternatives, I think it really depends on the situation. Often when I find myself wanting to say something is "crazy," what I really mean is that something is "ridiculous" - a term that is inoffensive and conveys my true meaning. So I use "ridiculous" instead. Sometimes people use it in situations were they can't believe what they're seeing. I would suggest "unbelievable" or "astounding."

    I don't think there is any "PC" or "safe" way to refer to a person you suspect is mentally ill. This is a tad off-topic, but I always remember what my dad told me about identifying pregnant women. "Unless a woman is wearing a shirt that says 'Yes I'm pregnant...Please ask me about it!' Never EVER ask a woman if she is pregnant." Unless a mentally ill person volunteers the information to you, I don't think it is polite to assume or ask what their medical history is (this may vary depending on your relationship with the person).

    All of this is not to say, or course, that Mr. Holmes should not be subject to a psychiatric evaluation. But that evaluation should be held by an actual psychiatrist and not in the court of public opinion, if that makes sense.

  3. Well…this has opened my eyes a bit - Mental illness has actually never been on my mind or radar when using the word - I've always deemed it as "off kilter" or unbalanced, never seeing it as an illness so to speak.

    My mother is the relative I've been speaking about - she's a sociopath, and has never tried to mend herself. She's brilliant, was on the Dean's list at Willamette University - very smart, yet used it in very evil ways. Manipulation being the biggest, right behind physical abuse.

    Cuckoo - nuts - messed up - all ways I've described her. All ways I've described situations, failed projects, or movies that are disasters. So, with this, I can't make any promises but it will give me pause. Thank you for the open dialogue : )

  4. While I agree with your main premise -- that mentally ill persons are often victimized and treated as "other" -- I think you may be conflating two basic ideas: (1) someone who murders must be crazy, and (2) everyone who has a mental disorder must be dangerous / the same level of crazy. While neither statement is true, one assumption does not mean that the other assumption is also being made.

  5. (1) Someone who murders must be crazy - this is regularly stated by the media, politicians, and so-called professionals whenever someone shoots up a school or blow up a building. Mass Murders = crazy. This is the message sent to the masses by almost everyone in the public eye.

    (2) Everyone who has a mental disorder must be dangerous/the same level of crazy - I clearly stated that there are varying degrees of mental illness, but that doesn't mean the "normal" public recognizes this. Many people (anecdotally) refuse to recognize "minor" mental illnesses as such (e.g. depression, anxiety, etc) and so their main interactions with the "real" mentally ill people are limited to those who may be severely ill and/or dangerous to themselves or others.

    It is possible there are people out there who are making one assumption without the other, but (again anecdotally) most of the commentary I have seen has taken BOTH these assumptions and run with them. Whether they see it as (mentally ill = crazy = mass murderer) or (mass murderer = crazy = mentally ill)...either way they are automatically conflating mentally ill people with violent crimes. And that's not ok.

  6. Christian - thank you for being open-minded about this. I know it can be difficult, especially when you have a close relative who is mentally ill.