At Towson University, I have seen several posters advocating for “Spread the Word to End the Word.” There is an entire website campaign dedicated to purging the word “retarded” from casual use. At first I was skeptical. Does one word really matter? The more I thought about it, the clearer the answer became to me.
Our choice of vocabulary matters. Now, I try to make a conscious effort not to say “retarded.” I am aware that the word is not meant to be used to describe a situation I think is annoying or stupid. It belittles and demeans those with actual intellectual disabilities, and it creates a hostile work or learning environment. It’s not good for anyone.
I want to take the movement farther. We should take a similar approach with mental health words. For example, when you use the word bipolar to describe anything but the mental illness, you are stealing my voice. You are diluting my message as a young woman who struggles daily with the disorder. When you perceive the weather to be rapidly changing, you are not witnessing a bipolar experience. I will gladly share my experience with you, but please do not make this comparison. I wish my mood swings were as simple as the weather.
It seems trivial. One word! But our choice of word shapes our attitudes. Let’s challenge ourselves to find a more respectful, intelligent substitute. The English language has a plethora of words for us to choose from. Let’s not take the easy way out and compromise our ability to empathize with our friends with mental illness.
I know this is a controversial blog post, so I invite you to share your thoughts in the comments. I’d like it if we could have a healthy conversation.