I have enormous respect for Dawdy. He’s an intrepid Seattle journalist who challenges the corruption of Big Pharma and the injustices of the U.S. healthcare system, defending the rights of people everywhere who struggle with mental health issues. His powerful, passionate and eloquent writing breaks important stories faster than anyone else, anywhere.
He also takes his readers' concerns to heart and helps them find their voices.
This was the first time I've seen him wade in on language, which, as you know, is one of my passions.
Philip and I share a distaste for political correctness but differ on whether we can control language in our culture.
He doesn’t think we can.
I’m fully prepared to wage a language war around mental health issues because language and linguistics determine how we think, perceive and communicate.
Changing language changes our reality. In mental health, tragically, the reality is still very sick.
To inspire a dialogue on what has far too long been a taboo subject, for more than 10 years, I've done public speaking and advocacy. Lately, my talks often touch on "The Power of Language and Madness," a word I prefer to all the labels doctors have given it since they started running asylums a few hundred years ago, and renaming, inventing and cataloguing different disorders in 1952. That’s when the American Psychiatric Association published its first Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders or DSM.
The DSM isn’t only a diagnostic handbook, it’s used for billing purposes, too. In Canada, to be covered for a psychiatric visit by our so-called universal health insurance plan, you need a psychiatric diagnosis.
“Back in 1994,” Dawdy wrote, “the nice folks who make the DSM changed manic depression to bipolar disorder. The thinking was that a new term would clear the decks for patients and reduce social stigma and the general public wouldn't react with fear upon hearing the term bipolar disorder the way they did when they heard manic depression. We know how that worked out, right?"
Sure didn't help.
I think, "Manic Depression" is a much better descriptor than "bipolar disorder." I lived through that linguistic transition and it was really confusing.
At 18, I found out I was diagnosed with schizophrenia at age 12, and then catatonic schizophrenia at age 17.
I had to look those two words up. It was devastating. Took me years to overcome the damage they inflicted on my psyche. I internalized those labels. Believed deep down that there was something terribly, terribly wrong with my mind, my being. Me.
That’s the power of language.
So give me madness. It’s a good umbrella term. Short. To the point. It carries some baggage, but remember Shakespeare. He had it right. All his “Fools” were mad and spoke the truth.
As a kid, I was name-called. “Mental,” was one. Ever since, I’ve had an aversion to that word, especially when it’s coupled with "illness."
How can the mind become ill or diseased like a body part?
Broken bones? Sure.
Broken minds? I don’t think so.
Language is living. Never static. I use it as I like. It's my signature.
The best way to fight prejudice, discrimination, fear and ignorance is to use language honestly, accurately and thoughtfully. Responsibly.
Political correctness is a crock. It muddies the discourse.
So do silly labels that don't mean anything, need to be defined, and are really there so doctors can bill.
Manic depression is an ancient term rooted in Latin. “Manic” means madness. Depression or "depress" means to feel utterly dispirited and dejected. Also rooted in Latin.
It doesn't need to be defined. It's universally understood.
There's no etymology for the word "bipolar."
When psychiatrists started changing the language, I think they blew it.
I get manic. Very high. Never depressed. I'm unipolar. People think I'm lucky.
Until I add, "No, manic, for me, means psychotic, insane. I need to be hospitalized to come down."
Then they get the picture.
See what I mean about language?