While at the McLean National Council event in October, a colleague said something that has been reverberating in my head lately. Why is it that when someone is diagnosed with a mental illness we say, “Joe is a paranoid schizophrenic” or “Mary is bipolar”? We would never say, “John is cancerous” when someone is diagnosed with cancer. We would say "John has cancer." This mode of speech is defining the individual by their illness, not as someone who has an illness. Ironically, the only illness I can think of besides mental illnesses where this happens is diabetes. We definitely say “Sally is diabetic.” Not sure why these seem to go together.
On the one hand we define a person entirely by their mental illness through speech at the same time that we trivialize their diagnosis by using those same diagnoses as figures of speech. There’s a great article here on that point (another reason this is on my mind). The one that gets under my skin the most (and I heard it at work in the last week), is when someone cannot make up their mind about something and say “I’m so schizophrenic.” Talk about something you really don’t want to have!
It’s like a song I can’t get out of my head… is anyone else hearing this tune? What do you think about this? Please comment or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org!