Are You A “Mental Defective”?

Once a year my son gets a letter referring to him as a “mental defective.”  He has schizo-affective disorder and has been court ordered to follow treatment. He once asked me, “How do you think I feel when I get this letter?”

Horrible, I am sure since his IQ is intact.

Because of this letter, however, he is entitled to government benefits, such as monthly disability checks and federal housing. On the other hand, it deprives him of certain rights, such as free access to travel and deciding where to live.

You may have heard the term “mental defective” in the news lately. It has been brought up repeatedly due to the brouhaha over gun ownership. I understand the reasoning behind criminals and people who have been committed not owning lethal weapons. (And I personally don’t see why anyone would want to own a weapon made for the military either.) My main concern is the term “mental defective.” While I’m not a huge fan of political correctness, in his case I think the government could come up with a better phrase when referring to folks with mental illnesses. Picky person that I am, I looked up the definition of the offending word.

Defective: Having a defect or flaw; faulty; imperfect; characterized by subnormal intelligence or behavior.

Okay, my son’s behavior is sometimes odd so I guess “mental defective” is accurate enough, but the connotation is far from nice. When I think of defective, I think of something I have bought at a store, a toaster, for instance. Let’s say I bring that said toaster home and discover that it doesn’t work properly. It is broken. After cursing for ten minutes straight, I get back into my car and return it to the store for another. I can’t return my son. I’d like to cure the illness, but until that day I’ll settle for better, more humane, treatment.

Another problem I have with the term is that it is used as a noun, not an adjective. If you have cancer you are not a “cancer” but a person who has the illness. If you have heart disease you are not a “heart disease.” People with mental illnesses are not the sum total of their illness. They are just people dealing with a condition that life has thrown their way.

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About waywardweed

I am a consumer and parent of two sons, one with a mental illness and the other a third-year law student.
This entry was posted in Mental Illness and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Are You A “Mental Defective”?

  1. So true! Parity for mental illness is but a dream – still not something our society seems to find important enough to honor. It is in the language, such as the noun usage of ‘defective’ and the lack of support. Dictionary-definition accuracy withstanding, this is derogatory and dehumanizing, something our own constitution is suppose to protect us from. Aren’t we all imperfect and flawed in some way?

    • waywardweed says:

      Thanks for replying. I think we are making progress, even if it isn’t as quickly as we would like. I just got an e-mail from NAMI, stating there will be a movie about mental illness on the Lifetime channel this Sat. night (April 20) at 8 pm. They gave it a good review.

  2. Mandi says:

    I read this when you wrote it and didn’t realize I hadn’t commented. Yes, a “Mental Defective” doesn’t sound good. My husband is sterile from chemo and radiation. On his military disability paperwork it says he has a reproductive defect. That’s just funny, though a bit awkward for my husband! It’s grammatically correct which helps. I don’t understand in the least why it would be acceptable to categorize someone with a mental illness as defective. I bet there would be outrage if some other groups of people were categorized with insensitive labels.

    • waywardweed says:

      Thanks for commenting. As I wrote, when I think of defect, I think of something that needs to be returned to a store and yeah, if it was some other group there would be outrage. I do believe we are making progress, however, just not as quickly as I would like.

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