THE BLOG
04/12/2018 14:17 GMT | Updated 04/12/2018 14:17 GMT

When Is It Okay To Use The Word 'Psychotic'?

By portraying people - like me - as villains, search engines, the media and, yes, dictionaries are perpetuating untruths that cause stigma

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Two years ago I blogged about how the women’s fashion brand, Missguided, made a serious mental health illness into a punchline.

Last week a new controversy piqued my interest. Appearing on This Morning, the former Made in Chelsea star, Lucy Watson, was invited to talk about a turkey farm owner who is allowing customers to pick, name and feed their own bird before they are killed for Christmas.

Discussing the story from the perspective of a vegan, Lucy initially describes anyone who goes to the farm and names a turkey as “psychotic”, expanding on the point by saying that it’s the way you’d treat a pet. As an idea it is certainly unusual, but are people who buy and name one of these turkeys really best described as psychotic?

Listening to the interview, there’s quite a bit of confusion. Rochelle Humes introduces the segment by claiming that the farmer has been accused of being a psychopath by vegans, but comments made live on air refer to customers.

Regrettably, at no point is Lucy corrected about her use of the word or asked to clarify it, so as a viewer you’re not completely clear if the word psychotic is referencing people who experience psychosis or psychopaths. Let’s remove all doubt about the word. “Psychotic” can only refer to the very specific mental health illness, psychosis.

Now psychosis is a complex mental health problem, and for that reason I’m sympathetic with Lucy in that I suspect her use of the word was accidental. The problem is that based on the available evidence, neither Rochelle, the production team or Phillip Schofield understand the term either.

Such a lack of understanding highlights a much bigger issue we have with the word. The interview This Morning uploaded to their YouTube page is still titled ‘The Farmer Labelled as a Psychopath by Vegan Activists’ and follow-up articles reporting on the story posted by The Daily Mail, Daily Mirror and Digital Spy all fail to comment on or correct the choice of wording, instead choosing to simply quote what was said.

To stop stigma around mental health illnesses it’s essential we improve our collective understanding. The two main symptoms of psychosis, as explained by the NHS, are hallucinations (such as hearing voices) and delusions (like believing there is a conspiracy against you). Unlike psychopaths, who can sometimes pose a threat to others through violence, most people with psychosis are more likely to harm themselves.

With confusion and misinformation having surfaced in mainstream media, it’s worth exploring the potential root cause. Yes, psychopath and psychosis both sound similar, but look just a little deeper, and the shocking extent to which we’re being programmed to misinterpret this one word is revealed.

Googling the word ‘psychotic’ brings up the same definition Hollie found two years ago.

What I didn’t notice at the time, but did last week, is the range of stigmatising, inaccurate and offensive synonyms Google suggests.

Alongside the more accurate ‘severely mentally ill’ you’ll find words like ‘mad’, ‘deranged’, ‘demented’, ‘unstable’, ‘mad as a hatter’, ‘crazy’ and ‘nutty as a fruitcake’ - to name but a few.

And Googling ‘psychopath definition’, actually brings up the synonym ‘psychotic’. Further confusing the matter.

If you happen to visit one of the many online dictionaries, and look up the word ‘psychotic’ you stumble across definitions like:

Macmillan - ‘Someone who is psychotic behaves in a dangerous or violent way because they have a serious mental illness’

Your dictionary - ‘Psychotic is defined as someone or something mentally disturbed’

And here are just a couple of examples of how the word can be used in example sentences:

Collins - ‘The man, who police believe is psychotic, is thought to be responsible for eight attacks’

Collins - ‘A religious psychotic in Las Vegas has killed four people’

Cambridge - ‘His dislike of women bordered on the psychotic’

From doing just a little research it’s clear the problem doesn’t sit solely with any one individual or organisation. Despite what you might be being told - explicitly, accidentally or subconsciously - those who experience psychosis are not mad, killers, attackers or misogynists.

By portraying people - like me - as villains, search engines, the media and yes, dictionaries are perpetuating untruths that cause stigma. As our go-to tool to help us all accurately understand words and their meaning, there is no excuse for any dictionary to get it wrong.

Today we live in an increasingly politically correct world, and to be honest the idea of policing language further is something I only advocate because what’s been found so far is factually incorrect.

What can do we do about it? Well, perhaps you’d like to join me in reporting feedback to Google, contacting ITV or tweeting a dictionary.

Whatever you do, let’s end the stigma.