Thursday, 19 November 2015

Absolutely nuts

Is it ever acceptable to use the idea of mental illness as a form of abuse, or is it always offensive - simply adding to the widespread stigma against those with mental health problems?

Ken Livingstone MP, who's usually very sensitive to any kind of discrimination, caused an outcry by suggesting his fellow MP Kevan Jones was "obviously very depressed and disturbed", "should pop off and see his GP", and "might need some psychiatric help". He claimed not to know his colleague confessed to having a major depression some years ago. He had to make a profuse public apology to the other MP.

Of course if you know very well someone has a psychological problem, you're not going to refer to it in an abusive way. But assuming that isn't the case, what harm does it actually do to suggest someone is "depressed and disturbed" or "might need psychiatric help"? It's not as if you're accusing them of being a serial killer or a paedophile. You're merely suggesting they're not mentally 100 per cent and maybe they should do something about it. And all the other person has to do is declare that they're quite all right, thanks, so shut your gob.

Does what Ken Livingstone said really add to the stigma against mental illness? Is he really going to stop people seeking help and prompt them to keep their problems secret? I can't honestly believe those rather mild phrases could have such a dramatic effect. I think there's an element of fashionable over-reaction here.

It seems even odder to me that simply describing someone as "nuts" or "crazy" is also seen as unacceptable. After all, you're not seriously saying the person is a deranged psychopath. They're just common terms for "a bit eccentric" or "not thinking straight". If someone calls me nuts, to me it's no more offensive than calling me lazy or greedy. It's just another harmless everyday insult.

The whole thing is surely a storm in a teacup. It's all a bit nuts, in fact.

Afterthought: Why is it thoroughly offensive to suggest someone needs psychiatric help, but not offensive at all to suggest they need to see a doctor?

Pic: Ken Livingstone MP

29 comments:

Bijoux said...

I've been reading a few news stories lately, similar to this. I believe the new term for this is 'microaggressions.' For example, a college professor used the term 'going over to the dark side' and his students were up in arms, calling him a racist.

The PC police are now controlling every thought, word and deed. It's both silly and alarming at the same time.

CheerfulMonk said...

I keep saying we're all bunch of nuts, myself included. We're submicroscopic specks on a tiny little planet, and we think we're the center of the universe.

Bijoux's comment reminds me of an incident here many years ago now. A newspaper columnist got fired for using the term niggardly (from a Scandinavian word for stingy). It seems to me it was the fellow's uneducated critics and boss who were the racists.

Nick said...

Bijoux: That's a good example of people going to absurd extremes. But I do think that in general so-called political correctness is a good thing, if it means treating other people with courtesy and respect rather than gratuitously insulting them.

Jean: Another good example of extremism. If people really think the word niggardly has some connection with the word nigger, they're amazingly ignorant. But I read that the word is now widely avoided in the US in case it causes offence.

John Gray said...

Hes a daft sod.....if he had just not gotten angry it would have all blown over

Nick said...

John: Very true. But you know what politicians are like. They have a habit of getting in a rage because it gets them the attention they always crave.

Helen Devries said...

Just another of the attempts to destabilise Corbyn..Livingstone supports him so Livingstone must be attacked...
Anything would have done...perhaps he didn't nod to the right angle when he said it..

tammy j said...

i think monk put it into perspective.
we're just very self important specks.
and the egos of politicians are the most self important of all.
no hope for it.
how ridiculous it has all become. and tiresome in the extreme.
our current wags on the political stage could be at home in a circus.
if it weren't so sad that they're running to be our leader!

Dave Martin said...

Obviously any decent human being isn't going to take the piss out of someone who has some sort of mental or physical disability, but people just need to stop being so bloody sensitive about everything.
If someone says something you find offensive, so what? Be offended. Nothing actually happens.
Tell it like it is and to hell with political correctness.

Nick said...

Helen: I think you're spot-on. Interesting that later on Lord Blunkett (a Blairite) said he wanted "sane, sensible" people to join the Labour Party. Nobody picked him up on the word "sane" (i.e. Jeremy Corbyn and his supporters were all "insane"). And his remarks were largely ignored by the media.

Yes, Ken probably had an "inappropriate smirk" on his face as he apologised.

Nick said...

Tammy: Indeed, so many politicians have huge egos and will do anything to get attention. Claiming to be mortally offended by something is a popular tactic.

Dave: I agree. People have got far too sensitive, and as you say, so what if you're offended by some chance remark? It's not going to kill you. But as I said to Bijoux, I think so-called political correctness is by and large a positive force. Unfortunately those who take it to stupid extremes discredit the whole idea, which is simply to treat people with courtesy and respect.

Rummuser said...

Your MPs have much lower decibels.You have to hear ours. Everytime they open their mouths they will put their feet and a whole lot of other things also into them. Calling fellow politicos as nuts or mad or needing the help of shrinks etc are are normal exchange of pleasantries.

At the individual level, many of my well wishers have been telling me for decades that I am in need of psychiatric help. One of these days, I may as well seek some.

Nick said...

Ramana: Politicians calling each other mad (or various euphemisms to that effect) is actually quite normal in the UK too. It's unusual for such comments to get this level of attention. As Helen says, it's very much linked to the current stand-off between Corbynites and Blairites.

I could probably do with some psychiatric help myself, so anyone suggesting as much is not going to offend me in the slightest.

Keith Smith said...

I think that ken Lividstone should be the one to see a psychologist, either that or be taught the social graces and to keep his mouth shut until he puts his brain into gear first.

Never did like the fella myself!

Nick said...

Keith: Politicians seem prone to mouthing off without thinking. But as I say, is it really that outrageous to suggest someone needs psychiatric help? In the States it's totally routine to seek psychiatric help for the slightest personal crisis, and no one bats an eyelid.

kylie said...

Its rather churlish to criticise politicians' need for attention, a high profile is everything in their game and they must find ways to generate publicity or else use their opportunities that arise.

Nick said...

Kylie: I would have thought a politician's priority would be helping his/her constituents, not seeking attention. Jeremy Corbyn is a good case in point - he's never sought attention but he's known as an excellent constituency MP who keeps increasing his local vote.

Tony Abbott was a relentless attention-seeker, and look where that got him.

Wisewebwoman said...

I despise ad hominem attacks particularly from politicians who should know better. But don't.

Name calling and contempt are mere distractors from the more serious political challenges that are not being addressed at all. And we all get caught up in it (me too).

Having attended various parliamentary sessions I see it for the kindergarten it is.

XO
WWW

Nick said...

www: Name calling and contempt are routine in the UK too. The tittering and desk-thumping and generally childish behaviour of our MPs in parliament is constantly remarked on.

Nick said...

I think if I were Kevan Jones, my reply to Ken would have been "Actually Ken, I have had psychiatric help, and it was a great benefit to me. Maybe you should try it yourself?"

Cro Magnon said...

People have been calling me 'nuts' for years; I take it as a compliment. If I'm 'nuts' I don't know what that makes darlings Ken and Jeremy.

Secret Agent Woman said...

I think actually naming a psychological issue someone has, like depression or anxiety, as a form of attack is out of line. But that's different than using a word like "nuts" which is rarely meant to mean actual psychosis. When I say someone is nuts or crazy, I don't mean they have schizophrenia, say.

And re your reply to Cheerful Monk - the n-word is avoided in the US not "In case it causes offence" but because it is ALWAYS offensive and is considered hate speech.

Nick said...

Cro Magnon: People sometimes call me nuts. They'd call me that more often if they knew what oddities are lurking under my charming public persona.

Nick said...

Agent: Maybe you have a point about specific psychological issues. Though ideally it shouldn't be seen as offensive to suggest someone has depression or anxiety, when they're very common conditions and nothing to be embarrassed or offended about.

I agree the word nigger is always offensive, but contrary to popular assumption, niggardly is an old English word meaning stingy and has no connection with the other word.

Secret Agent Woman said...

I know the words are different, but I'm just commenting that here it is seen as powerfully hateful so most people wouldn't chance it. I can't even bring myself to write the word.

Nick said...

Agent: That's interesting, because to my knowledge in the UK the word niggardly has never attracted any controversy.

Jenny Woolf said...

i think Ken might be showing his age. Times are changing and people can't say the kind of stuff that was fine 20 years ago.

Nick said...

Jenny: Behavioural norms have certainly changed over the decades, but I still don't think his remarks about needing psychiatric help were as outrageous as people made out. As I said, I probably need psychiatric help myself so I wouldn't be too bothered if someone suggested it!

cedar51 said...

I'm not up with British politics as I'm in New Zealand - and right now we are up to our ears in "flag preferences" and I got my postal vote on which one - not "do I want a change"? Now I can't find the bits of paper that arrived so I probably won't be returning my "preference" at all...

And it all of this is costing the population a huge amount of $millions when there are much better things that need addressing!

Usually sort of "nutty, crazy and whatever other word you chose" happening...

Nick said...

Cathy: Ah yes, I heard about the big national flag referendum, but I've no idea why a new flag is needed in the first place. The NZ government's website displays all the five options, but it doesn't say why it wants a new flag! A serious contender for a "nutty waste of money" award.