"Does that make me crazy?" Thus ask the soul duo Gnarls Barkley in the crescendo of their pop hit, "Crazy". Singer CeeLo Green then answers his own refrain: "Possibly". It's a groovy tune, but a responsible psychiatrist - maybe after showing off a few dance moves - should retort: "No, it doesn't. And by asking the question, you're trivializing mental illness."
Such language trivializes mental illness by minimizing its consequences. In the song, CeeLo Green rhetorically asks whether he is "crazy" because he "knew too much" and was "out of touch". This misuse of the word "crazy" is perpetuated in casual language, where it can refer to anything that deviates from middle-of-the-road conventionality. This definition creep - the origin of the word crazy is in something diseased, sickly, or broken - risks trivializing genuine mental illness.
Similar trivializations of mental illness in casual language are rife. Here are a few more examples that crop up in day-to-day speech:
Being mindful about our choice of words is not a form of censorship. Freedom of speech is important and should be protected, but it comes with responsibility. We are not entering some Orwellian dystopia by being more aware of how language shapes impressions of mental illness. Instead, the hope is that - with greater mindfulness in our choice of words - maladies of the brain will eventually come to be treated in society with the same level of seriousness as maladies afflicting other organs. Once we've achieved that level of collective enlightenment, we can reward ourselves with a celebratory dance to Gnarls Barkley's groovy tune. Just be mindful of the lyrics!