To Be Called A Psychopath
This week I had the opportunity to speak at Livingstone College’s weekly assembly, a program that exposes students to various topics. The topic of this week’s assembly was Mental Health Awareness and I was happy to share a few words to not only raise awareness with the students, but to also encourage them to take action to make sure they are mentally fit.
During the assembly I experienced something new. A guy called me a psychopath as I shared my story. I have been called crazy, coo-coo, and many other words used to describe mentally ill individuals — but never psychopath. It caught me off guard but I held my composure and continued my story. Funny thing is, I could see my cousin, who invited me to speak at the assembly, in my peripheral vision and she was heated by the guy’s comment.
Once I finished my story, I had to double back to his comment. I had to make this a teaching moment for him and a learning experience for myself. The language we use for those who live with a mental illness is a big factor that feeds into the stigma associated with mental illness and prevents individuals from expressing themselves and getting the help they need.
The young man’s negative use of the term ‘psychopath’ was intended to get a laugh from his peers. I had to inform him and his peers that I accept who I am so that others can accept who they are. One message that I wanted to leave with them was to watch what they say and how they say it. I wanted them to understand that some language can be ostracizing and create feelings of shame and embarrassment, preventing people from sharing their issues . This goes for language directed towards family, friends, and strangers.
This experience turned into a learning moment for myself because in the past I have focused my attention on things that I hear often or have been called. The term psychopath is not new to me but I decided to research it to learn the actual definition.
Psychopath (noun psy·cho·path \ˈsī-kə-ˌpath\) a mentally ill or unstable person; especially : a person affected with antisocial personality disorder — Merriam-Webster
If using half of the definition, “mentally ill or unstable,” the young man was actually correct to use the term psychopath. However, the term is used in clinical settings to describe individuals who display symptoms related to a diagnosis of Antisocial Personality Disorder.
Jeffrey Dahmer, a cannibal rapist who killed and stored the remains 15 young men is considered a psychopath.
Likewise, Ted Bundy, who was noted to have a diagnosis of Antisocial Personality Disorder and Necrophilia (erotic interest with corpses) , killed at least 30 women after a breakup with his girlfriend.
Is there a word or phrase you commonly use without fully understanding its meaning? Do you use it to in a negative context to ostracize someone? Just be careful, because words are powerful and can influence people’s views about mental health, mental illness and treatment.
All in all, I enjoyed my experience with the Blue Bears of Livingstone College and I hope that I was able to inspire at least one person in the room and I hope they learned something, I know I did.