Self Care / Support

Exercising Caution and Empathy in our Everyday Language

While teasing is an important form of communication, and is an essential mechanism used to bind people together, there are some words that today’s convention suggests we be cautious about using. The words to be wary of include:

Mental (a) 

Relating to the mind and disorders of the mind. (This term, however, is used offensively to refer to individuals who are being particularly silly and is also utilised as a synonym for the negative term “stupid”. Additionally, it is used in mainstream media to refer to people whose brains are not functioning at the optimum level.)

Retard (n) 

An offensive word for someone who has not developed mentally as much as most other people of the same age.

Spastic / Spaz (n) 

(offensive, informal). An incompetent or uncoordinated person. (Regarding its usage in medical terms: The word spastic has been used in medical senses since the 18th century. In the 1970s and 1980s it became a term of abuse, used mainly by children, directed towards any person regarded as incompetent or physically uncoordinated. Today any use of the word spastic in relation to a person is likely to cause offence, and it is preferable to use phrasing such as person with cerebral palsy instead)

Psycho (n) Psychotic (a)

(informal) a deranged or psychopathic person.

Demented (a)

(formal) suffering from dementia; (informal) Behaving irrationally due to anger, distress, or excitement.

OCD (n)

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is an anxiety disorder in which people have recurring, unwanted thoughts, ideas or sensations (obsessions) that make them feel driven to do something repetitively (compulsions).

Depressed (a)

(formal) affected by psychological depression; (informal) low in spirits, sad.

ADHD (n)

Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is one of the most common mental disorders affecting children characterised by inattention, hyperactivity and impulsivity.

Mentally Challenged (a)

a euphemism for mentally or intellectually disabled (note: this term is only used in India; globally, it has been replaced by the formal term “intellectually disabled” since “mentally challenged” is considered offensive.)

Addiction Challenged (n)

The state of being enslaved to a habit or practice or to something that is psychologically or physically habit-forming (narcotics, for example), to such an extent that its cessation causes severe trauma.

Understand depression better. What is Depression?

Usage & Context

Keep in mind that usage is heavily dependent on the context. Just remember to be mindful when you use these terms, as you never know whom you might unintentionally offend

Harmful stereotypes

The main reason why we should be more cautious with the words we use is because these words may help to perpetuate harmful stereotypes. Using terms like anxious or depressed to describe temporary or fleeting emotions or misattributing organizational skills to OCD diminishes the debilitating aspect of the illnesses in question. Another common stereotype involves the usage of “mentally disturbed” to excuse violent behaviour among criminals and offenders. This is particularly damaging because the large majority of people with mental health issues are not aggressive or violent.

Assumption of Inferiority

Finally, with these stereotypes comes an assumption of inferiority. People assume that individuals with mental health concerns have a lower than average IQ, are incompetent or do not possess control over their mental faculties. This is not necessarily true, for example, people with high functioning Autism or Savant Syndrome usually have higher than average IQs, as do most people with an Antisocial Personality Disorder

Exercise Empathy and Caution

As with all things, the situation we are in often dictates how we should proceed with communication. In general, it is helpful to exercise empathy and caution when you are unsure of context.

Other Blogs

Join our mailing list

Be a part of the change