I was sent this article from The Guardian by a friend yesterday. With the General Election looming, there has been much coverage of which political party is offering what and to whom. But it wasn’t the politics that stood out for me, it was the language used. Nick Cohen, author of the piece, has a real bee in his bonnet and it is buzzing loudly.
Cohen points to the minefield of correct terminology to use – according to him “On no account should you describe someone as “mentally ill”. You must refer to “people with mental health problems” instead.” I don’t disagree, but would describe myself as having a mental health problem which, on occasion, makes me mentally ill.
Cohen also makes reference to one of my own pet hates, the term ‘service user’. I would class myself as a patient – I am an outpatient, receiving treatment at home or at the hospital while living in the community. Those admitted to a mental health ward or unit would be inpatients. I am not a service user.
So far so good, I may not fully agree with Cohen but he hasn’t offended me either. Until I find, further down his article, that he has used the word handicapped – referring to cuts within the NHS he says they are happy “with speech codes that prevent us from saying the mentally ill and handicapped suffer” while at the same time increasing their suffering.
I don’t disagree with him over the impact of cuts – I’ve discussed them myself here – but his use of the word handicapped is offensive. I may be mentally ill – sorry, have mental health problems – but I am not handicapped and I don’t know anyone who would think that an acceptable word to use.
What could have been an informative piece on the Conservative and Lib Dem policies on mental health ended up reading like a rant about the correct, politically correct, language to use. And was completely spoiled by Cohen’s use of handicapped – a word that shows him to be woefully out of touch with the distinction between “speech codes” and causing offence.