Sanist Double Standard

You really don’t need to look very far to find sanism. Mental health discrimination is so pervasive that no one really recognizes that it exists in the blatant way that it does. But, can something be discriminatory and acceptable at the same time? Think along the lines of only Black people being able to say the word “nigger” (while still keeping in mind the countless Black individuals who rightfully despise that word or any variation and don’t want it used at all).

I found two beer coolers at the dollarstore two weeks ago…







I had a strong mix of “Ha ha that’s great” and “Screw whoever made these and whoever buys them!”

If I owned one of these beer coolers either one of these would be funny. My mental health past and present turn these sayings into funny mental health humour. I do believe in laughing at myself and if I did not do so then I would be a sad mess. So, “You say psycho like it’s a bad thing.” and “My goal in life is to have a psychiatric disorder named after me.” are two phrases that I would laugh at if I or my mental health friends had them on their beer coolers. It’s funny because of the truth it holds in our lives as people with mental health issues and the deep understanding we have about where mental health humour can go amongst our community.

On the other hand if a person without mental health experience used these beer coolers I would not laugh at all and be horrified at their participation in stigma and discrimination (most likely unknowingly because that’s how sanism works). These “normal” people don’t know what it’s life to be called a psycho and don’t have an understanding of the consequences psychiatric disorders come with (and also that majority of psychiatric disorders aren’t named after anyone, but I digress).

So, I guess the question is: can stigma and discrimination ever be funny? Can it ever be acceptable?

For the sake of fairness that answer should be no. It should never be funny and it should never be acceptable. We will always find ways to justify when we do make jokes and when we accept it but I believe it is always important to keep in mind how we may help or hinder the mental health community. I never want any of us to lose our sense of humour and our ability to laugh at ourselves and our experience and if anything this is a lesson in the importance of context.

What do you all think?


16 thoughts on “Sanist Double Standard

  1. I feel the same way you described–it would be funny if it was said among friends with mental illness, but from the general public it would be unacceptable. I think it’s unintentionally telling that our culture is mass-producing stigma.

  2. I agree with you on this one, yet again. 🙂

    When I first saw the pictures, I laughed. But after a minute, I was mad as hell.
    Whoever wrote that, have no clue about mental illness.

    After the laughing part, now I feel offended.

    The problem is unawareness of the people. Like it’s a joke to suffer invisibly, inside.

    I can, and I often make jokes on my account. But that’s something else.

    These beer coolers are at offensive and stupid above all.

    I wish whoever make them, to find out what a “psycho” really means.

    After that, I would ask him if he would make the same cooler again, and does he feels stigmatized and offended.

    I think the answer would be yes.

  3. Hey Kristen!

    You raise an excellent point here. I recently found myself thinking seriously when a Canvas author wrote this piece for us (please know I will understand completely if you want to delete the link from this comment, I really just want more than anything for you to be able to read it and some of the responses it inspired): What Are We Laughing At? | A Canvas Of The Minds.

    Part of my response to Cate’s piece, and I think for me personally it applies to what you’ve shared above was:

    “I know there have been times and will be times I need to make a joke to myself or someone close to me about my bipolar or anxiety disorders, but I know these are also moments when if I don’t make a joke, the alternative is breaking down sobbing, and I think that’s rightly something else altogether.

    I think the vast majority of people get information on mental illness not only from the media, but from those of us dealing with it ourselves. When we joke about it, when we self-stigmatize, hide it and treat it with shame, they take the cue that it is something to joke about, stigmatize, hide and shame.

    Bottom line is we set the example, and I never again want to set any kind that gives anyone the right to be ignorant and ugly about mental illness.”

    I really sat and thought about this one a great deal, and I think that’s the most important thing, to get everyone thinking about what is personally okay with them and why or why not. I feel like you more-or-less arrived at a similar answer to me, whether for exactly the same reasons or not. The fact remains if we (those with lived experience) say these things are okay, we then have no control, we can’t regulate and say it’s only okay for those with lived experience.

    Anyway, I’m really glad you brought this up, that you’re speaking about something so important.

    • Thanks for sharing the link! I left a comment on there.

      I will always make jokes. I need to make jokes. For example, when my colleague and I present to post secondary students about youth mental health and homelessness she’ll crack a joke a made privately too her about how having food at home (even if she didn’t want to eat it) was part of what helped her recover. As someone who experienced anorexia and bulimia she felt comfortable making that joke and we have found that inserting some of those jokes is helpful at loosening people up. Another one I say is along the lines of talking about my suicide attempt and pointing out the obvious that I’m still here. While suicide is serious I don’t want people to be afraid and think they can’t talk about it. Jokes, when used in the right way can open up the doors that need to be opened to people can learn and support 🙂

      Thanks for the comment Ruby!! xoxoxo

      • “Jokes, when used in the right way can open up the doors that need to be opened to people can learn and support.”

        I actually agree with you 100% here, Kristen. They can be an amazingly valuable tool to start people talking about things which, let’s face it, are just difficult and often very painful to discuss. And I think you and your colleague finding a use for them in this way is absolutely brilliant.

        I think that a controlled environment like that, where you are presenting to people who are there (hopefully) eager to learn and become more understanding is obviously a completely different arena than something like the beer coolers or the “humor” Cate talked about though, you know? It’s like there’s a time and a place where it’s not only appropriate, it’s massively useful, and then there’s another time I feel it sets a tone we shouldn’t be setting, because it then gives the “sanists” (love that word, by the way) cart blanche to use it any way they please.

        Make sense?

  4. I’d be more likely to find those sayings amusing if they weren’t so inaccurate. You mentioned that psychiatric disorders (generally) aren’t named after people. Even if they were, somehow I doubt anyone would want to have a set of behaviors others find so problematic that they name a disorder after that person. Especially since, to be diagnosed as a psychiatric disorder, the behaviors usually also need to be causing distress to the person with them. Who would want that? It’s just not funny.

    “Psycho” doesn’t mean anything useful in the mental health community. It’s a shortening of “psychological” that is used by people outside the mental health community to refer to general insanity often combined with homicidal tendencies. I think most people would consider feeling homicidal “bad.” Why would anyone want to be labeled “psycho”? If you’re going to be labeled with something, let it at least be something that might give mental health professionals some clue where to start when working with you to treat whatever you’re finding to be problematic and distressing.

    I’m not really in a place where I can joke about mental illness, especially not my own. If you can I think that’s great, I salute you for it, respect your right to do it, and will stand up for that right. But I’d really prefer if the humorous sayings had some accuracy to them and were generated within the mental health community, to reflect our experiences and perceptions of ourselves, rather than by outsiders to make fun of us.

    • If someone were to name a psych disorder after me I would just feel bad for them. Unless psych disorders start focusing on the positives I would never wish my experiences on others.

      Ya, I can’t think of any time I was called a psycho and I could have been a good thing 😛

      From my experience jokes can be a great way of relaxing people and open them up to learning. When I joke during presentations that my suicide attempt clearly failed since I’m standing in front of them I can see people relax and see that I’m not a big sack of sad. But of course many people may cross the line.

      Thank you for your comment!

  5. I wrote a post about this recently using Tim Minchin’s ‘Prejudice’ to highlight some of my ideas
    I don’t think prejudice or stigma can ever be funny but I think using mental health related words can be acceptable depending on who is using them and their intention. I have a dark sense of humour and say many things with friends who have mental health problems which would probably be considered discriminatory if it wasn’t for the fact we have mental illnesses but the way we use the words could not be considered prejudice or stigma because of our experiences.

  6. Does the first one mean “psychotic” or “psychopath”? I’d like the idea of a mug that said “You say psychotic/schizo like it’s a bad thing”. Because I’ve had both positive and negative experiences with my atypical perception, to me it’s like “yeah, YOU’RE the one who has a problem accepting people who are different, not me!” I used to have a button that was a variation on this only it said “You call me bitch like it’s a bad thing”. I’ve gathered that millenial-age activists general don’t understand this sort of old-skool punk “spit the slur back at them” snarkiness whether it’s “bitch” “bossy” or the great T-word debate,and I guess it can be stuff like this too.

    The second mug doesn’t appeal to me as much. It rings of a wannabe, as odd as the idea of a mental health issue wannabe may seem.It makes me think of this girl I knew who, amongst mental health activists, would say she thought she may have “bipolar or something too!”, wanting to be part of what she perceived as a crowd.Around other people she’d dismiss the idea of psychology, mental health treatment, or mental health issues as “silly” or “something people rely on” because she thought it would appeal to that crowd. So yeah, the second mug just seems stupid to me.

    As a cartoonist who has often drawn from my mental health experiences, I certainly think humor can be a weapon to fight against oppression or stigma. But like most other things, humor can be done well or poorly.

  7. It’s slippery to say that we should police how people talk about mental illness, or which people are mad enough to be allowed to joke about it, and in what forum. On the other hand, why am I defending a beer koozie’s right to say its drinker is “psycho”? Haha. I personally find humor necessary to cope with my mental health issues, and so I salute a koozie that encourages its drinker to embrace being mad.

    Those fuckers will market anything.

    My favorite koozie is a winter sock.

    Fantastic blog, by the way.

  8. Pingback: Sanist Double Standard | Being Pristiq

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