[Little Rock, AR]: On February 7, 2023, many Americans and Arkansans with a mental health diagnosis listened to Arkansas Governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders provide the official GOP response to President Joe Biden’s State of the Union address, “The dividing line in America is no longer between right or left; the choice is between normal or crazy.” The Governor used the term “crazy” three times throughout her rebuttal. This tagline, “the choice is between normal and crazy,” has been shared many times via social media, the press, and word of mouth.
For years, individuals with a mental health diagnosis have been working to eliminate the term “crazy” because it further adds to the stigma of a mental health diagnosis. But, as the nation’s youngest Governor, a Governor who graduated from Little Rock Central High School, a school with a rich history in advancing civil rights, it is astonishing and disappointing to hear her use this language in delivering a message to the American people.
The message sent by the Governor implies that having a mental health diagnosis puts you in a different category than your family, friends, and neighbors. That is not true, and the Governor needs to rectify her message. This is not the first time the Governor has used derogatory language. During the Presidential debate, she sent a tweet criticizing the current President over his stuttering. This ableist language needs to stop, and she should be working to unite everyone, not creating division based on someone’s mental health diagnosis.
“The language used by the Governor was inappropriate and offensive to the millions of Americans who struggle with a mental health diagnosis. We demand better from our elected officials who represent all of us, says Tom Masseau, Executive Director of Disability Rights Arkansas. “The devaluing of people with disabilities further contributes to the ableist culture, especially here in Arkansas. Words matter! I hope the Governor will use this opportunity to find a way to unite everyone instead of further stigmatizing disability issues.”
DRA has a Protection and Advocacy for Individuals with Mental Illness (PAIMI) Advisory Council that works towards ending stigma and educating the general public about mental health awareness.
“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…by Sarah Huckabee Sanders. We sincerely hope that she has the compassion and intellect to take that pledge as well,” states Cory Bates-Rogers, PAIMI Advisory Council Chair for Disability Rights Arkansas.
The Governor should use her platform to lift the voices that are often ignored or mistreated, not segregate or further stigmatize their diagnosis. Disability Rights Arkansas and many other groups and individuals are ready to help educate the Governor on using language that does not demean someone.
Disability Rights Arkansas (DRA) envisions a state where people with disabilities are equal members of their communities, and all are treated with dignity, respect, and compassion. If you envision a state that welcomes everyone, we at Disability Rights Arkansas encourage you to sign this petition to encourage the Governor to remove ableist language and educate the public on mental health awareness.