What Do You Call Somebody With a Mental Disorder? Whatever They Want

So well stated.

As this brilliant cartoon so clearly illustrates, the best thing you can do for someone who has a mental disorder or other challenge is to ask them how they want to be referred to.

As the person in panel #9 states,

When you correct a person with a mental disorder, you take away their identity and silence them.”


Cartoon by Christine Deneweth.


Panel 1

Text: My Language is My Identity —Christine Deneweth

Panel 2

(Crass talking and smiling. She has short curly hair, glasses and is wearing a t-shirt.)

Crass: Hi. I’m Crass, and I’m schizophrenic. And yes, I am intentionally calling myself that.

Panel 3

(Crass talking.)

Crass: It feels really bad when I tell someone I’m schizophrenic and they correct me and say I should refer to myself as a person with schizophrenia. This comic is about a discussion I had with a friend about policing the language of people with mental disorders.

Panel 4

(Crass smiling and talking to Mike. Mike has short brown hair and glasses.)

Mike: Having a mental disorder is hard!

Crass: You said it! I’m schizophrenic, and I sure have my ups and downs.

Panel 5

(Mike yelling angrily.)

Mike: Woah! You should say that you have schizophrenia instead of identifying yourself as schizophrenic. You’re a person! You come before your disorder!

Panel 6

(Crass, angry, with her mouth open.)

Crass: !

Panel 7

(Crass pulling up the page and pressing a pause button.)

Crass: Hold up! Pause!

Panel 8

(Crass angrily talking and holding her hand up.)

Crass: I just told Mike that I was schizophrenic. That was my truth! While there’s nothing wrong with identifying as a person with schizophrenia, that’s not my word choice.

Panel 9

(Crass talking.)

Crass: When you correct a person with a mental disorder, you take away their identity and silence them. You insinuate that they are not capable of deciding how to refer to themselves—and that is ableist. Let’s explore why I prefer to be called schizophrenic and why language policing is harmful.

Panel 10

(Crass smiling with a question mark.)

Text: First of all, why do I call myself “schizophrenic” instead of “with schizophrenia”?

Panel 11

(Young Crass looking sad on her bed. She is wearing sweatpants and a sweater.)

Text: I lived my whole life knowing something was wrong with me, but not having a name for it.

Panel 12

Crass smiling at a clipboard.

Text: Once I was diagnosed, my life changed for the better. I had a name for what was wrong! I proudly call myself schizophrenic because it is part of me.

Panel 13

(Woman smiling next to “with schizophrenia” and a check mark.)

Text: If you choose to say you’re a person with schizophrenia, that’s fine! That isn’t the problem.

Panel 14

(Guy standing with a label gun that says “politically correct” on the label.)

Text: The problem is when non mentally disabled people think they can decide what to call people with mental disabilities.

Panel 15

(Guy with label gun labeling Crass with a “nope.”)

Text: It’s not ok when a person with mental disabilities informs you of how they refer to themselves and you decide to disregard their identity and call them something else.

Panel 16

(Label Guy yelling over other guy, introducing himself as Ben.)

Text: It’s like calling someone Benjamin after they just introduced themselves as Ben.

Panel 17

(Label Guy putting his hand in Crass’ face.)

Text: When you correct someone’s identity-based language, you’re denying their ability and agency to assert who they are in the world.

Panel 18

(Label Guy and Crass on a scale; Label Guy is above Crass.)

Text: You’re putting what you prefer over what they prefer.

Panel 19

(Crass talking.)

Crass: When you correct language people use to refer to their own mental disorder, you silence voices and perpetuate the negative stigma they already have to endure.

Panel 20

(Guy and Woman standing with Bipolar and OCD labels on.)

Text: Many people may say they are Bipolar or they are OCD because they are reclaiming the word.

Panel 21

(Mike angrily talking.)

Text: Hold on a minute…

Mike: Woah! You should say you have schizophrenia instead of identifying yourself as schizophrenic. You’re a person! You come before your disorder.

Panel 22

(Crass talking.)

Crass: I think it’s time I talked to Mike. I know he was just trying to look out for me, but he needs to know that hew was causing me harm instead.

Panel 23

(Crass talking to Mike.)

Crass: Hey Mike?

Mike: Yeah?

Panel 24

(Crass talking.)

Crass: When you corrected my language, you actually hurt me instead of helped me. I’m proud of my disorder, and it is part of who I am. I am schizophrenic. So please refer to me as schizophrenic, just like I call you Mike instead of Michael.

Panel 25

(Mike talking.)

Mike: Oh wow, I had no idea that I hurt you. I’m sorry! I just wanted to be politically correct. But since you told me that’s how you identify, I won’t make this mistake again, my schizophrenic friend!

Panel 26

(Crass talking and smiling.)

Crass: Thanks, Mike.

Panel 27

(Crass talking and smiling.)

Crass: That’s all I wanted!

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