Last night, the Governor of our state, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, responded to President Biden’s State of the Union address. In her response, we heard much of what we expected to hear, but also something that we did not. She said, “The dividing line in America is no longer between right and left — it’s between normal and crazy.”
This was a really unfortunate, dangerous, and unfair thing to say. We live in a time where 1 in 5 Americans experience mental health issues. From veterans to school teachers, bankers to baristas, mental illness touches the lives of every Arkansan in some way. Whether it be you, a loved one, or a friend, everyone experiences the effects of mental illness.
So, why is it problematic to call everyone that disagrees with you “crazy”?
First, when we use derogatory terms in place of other, more accurate descriptors, we alienate the groups of people to which those terms have traditionally been applied. Saying that something bad or different is crazy sends the message that it’s bad or different to suffer from a mental illness. The repercussions of that usage then discourages people from seeking help when they need it. We see this often in cases of mental heath related suicides where a person refuses to seek help out of fear or shame and ultimately takes their own life. Many deaths like these could be avoided by just changing the way we talk about mental illness.
Second, it’s problematic that our governor named anyone that disagrees with her political beliefs crazy because what she is actually saying is that either you are a MAGA Republican, or you are mentally ill. Our county is built on freedoms that allow us to express our opinions and differing political views. Our political system is a dual-party system where most individuals are either Democrats or Republicans. For a government leader, a public servant, to call half of her constituents mentally ill just because they disagree is not a far step from bullying individuals into submission.
So what can we do? Instead of alienating ourselves, our friends, and our family members who are experiencing or might experience mental illness, we should be encouraging and supportive. We should endeavor to make access to quality mental health services easier and more affordable. We should focus our efforts on improving the quality of life for Arkansans with policies that enable alternatives to guardianships, restrictions on chemical and physical restraints in schools and mental heath facilities, and building larger community support networks for individuals with disabilities so that they can live meaningful and productive lives.
We at the PAIMI Advisory Council hope that our supporters and community members can take the pledge to stop using words like “crazy” and “insane” and instead level up their vernacular by using more elevated and accurate descriptors. Mental illness is a serious health issue that impacts everyone in some way. We all have a reason to do better and not to follow the example presented to us last night by Sarah Huckabee Sanders. We sincerely hope that she has the compassion and intellect to take that pledge as well.
– Corey Bates-Rogers, PAIMI Advisory Council Chair for Disability Rights Arkansas