There’s an attitude I encounter a lot when I talk about mental illness, stigma, and perceptions about mentally ill people. It’s usually something along the lines of ‘well, I’m not talking about you, I’m talking about those bad crazy people over there. Those are the people who are dangerous and scary and should have their legal rights infringed for public safety, aren’t human, are the types to ‘go loco’ with a gun. Why do you have to go making this personal?’
The idea of good and bad crazies is alarmingly widespread. I see it not just in the general population, but also in the mentally ill community; some mental illnesses are ‘good crazy’ and it’s ok to talk about them, while others are ‘bad crazy.’ People with conditions like schizophrenia, bipoloar disorder, borderline personality disorder, ‘they’ are the bad crazies. There’s a reinforcement of this that happens every time people refuse to support people with a case of the bad crazy, every time people say we should talk about suicide prevention, but not about access to support for violent intrusive thoughts.
There are no good and bad crazies. We are all mad here.
And every time people reinforce this hierarchy of craziness, where some people are good and some people are bad, it is a reminder that people like to draw bright shiny lines. It’s not enough to draw a line between ‘sane’ and ‘insane.’ It is also necessary to divide the crazy people up. And the language that gets used around ‘bad’ crazies tends to be very othering. It’s a reminder to us that we are not safe, even in progressive communities, in places where people are specifically talking about mental illness, in places where people are expressly and explicitly engaging with stigma.
Someone told me recently that she didn’t think of characters like Emma on Glee as ‘crazy.’ ‘You know,’ she said, ‘not like scary bad insane crazy.’ Emma very probably has obsessive compulsive disorder, but the way they’re portraying her, people can decide not to read her as mentally ill, as in ‘bad and scary.’ The way she is depicted, people can continue to draw lines between good and bad, can say that some people ‘just need a little help’ while others (the crazies) should be locked up to protect the general public.
People say that bad crazies are just waiting to snap. That we are inherently bad, evil, frightening. We pose a threat just by existing and if we cannot be medicated (or forcibly ECTed) out of existence, the next best thing is to lock us away somewhere. Somewhere ‘safe,’ they say, meaning that we cannot get out, and having absolutely nothing to do with whether we are safe there.
Right now, nations all over the world are slashing their budgets to the bone, and mental health services are on the front lines of these cuts. When people talk about this, what they say is that the bad crazies will run amock. They do not talk about the huge repercussions of cuts to mental health services that don’t just keep us scary crazy people under control, but also provide for the health of the population as a whole.
A large percentage of the population experiences symptoms of mental illness in any given year. Thanks to perceptions about mental illness and the good crazy/bad crazy dichotomy, people often do not receive treatment and are reluctant to talk about it. People with ‘good crazy’ conditions do not want to be branded with the bad ones, and thus will go to great lengths to distance themselves. It’s appreciated, really, when other mentally ill people remind me that they aren’t like me, they don’t pose a threat to society, they aren’t scary, they just need some help.
I don’t pose a threat to society. Neither does anyone else with a mental illness. We exist. We are human beings. We have mental health conditions that can become dangerous, usually to ourselves, this is true. But people who are not crazy hurt people all day long. People who are not crazy hurt crazy people, for that matter. I am 11 times more likely than members of the general population to be the victim of a violent crime. Society is actually a danger to me.
I’m not particularly scary. Most people who meet me like me just fine. Most people also don’t read me as mentally ill and thus they feel free to slur people with my diagnoses, to spout off ignorant and uninformed things about us, to position themselves as authorities. They hear I’m mentally ill and think I have the good crazy, so I won’t mind if they dehumanise the bad crazies.
We’re all mad here.
Fighting stigma about mental health requires working together and in solidarity with each other. People who are able to be out and open about their mental health conditions and who choose to do so need to stop reinforcing the good crazy/bad crazy dichotomy. Those people need to stand with us when we are maligned. Those people need to say ‘as a mentally ill person, I find what you are saying extremely offensive, and here’s why.’ Those people need to not throw us under the bus. Those people need to help us build a world where we can be open about our diagnoses, where revealing what we have won’t compromise our lives and careers. Where people will not take our children away from us, declaring us unfit to parent solely on the grounds that we are crazy.
There is no good crazy, there is no bad crazy. There’s just crazy. It comes in a lot of flavours and not all of them might be to your taste, but all of us are human beings, we all deserve respect, we all deserve to live in a world where we are safe from harm, where we can get help when we need it.