You’re Driving Me Mentally Illnessed!

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When the ATM at my bank runs out of paper, it flashes a message that says, “It’s been crazy today. Do you mind not getting a receipt?” What I wonder is if this offends crazy people, who might object to craziness being applied to such mundane things as a busy day at the bank.

The reason I wonder about this is not that I am concerned about political correctness, because of course that isn’t the case. It’s that there exists an organization dedicated to stopping insensitive references to mental illness, and their fussiness and humorlessness is of near-PETA proportions.

The organization is the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill, and they actually do a lot of good in helping improve the lives of the mentally ill through legislation, public awareness and the manufacture of soft, silky straitjackets.

I am kidding on the last one, but NAMI really is a very fine organization with good intentions. However, they also have a division called StigmaBusters whose mission, according to the Web site (www.nami.org), is “fighting the pervasive and hurtful prejudice and discrimination that exists toward persons with mental illness.” This translates into writing angry letters anytime someone uses the word “crazy” to describe people with mental illnesses, which means I guess I can expect one.

An example of StigmaBusters’ extreme touchiness: A commercial for Miracle Whip had a guy with a plate of hamburgers but no Miracle Whip available. This put him over the edge, as you can well imagine, and he wound up in a padded cell. The StigmaBusters complained that the commercial trivialized mental illness, and Kraft Foods pulled the ad. (“It’s still hard to believe that someone actually was paid to script it in the first place,” says the StigmaBuster site. However, this is true of most TV commercials, some of which are scripted not by professional writers but by hens pecking randomly at computer keyboards.)

Also: Magazine ads touting owners’ devotion and care for their Nissan Altimas said, “Known to Cause Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.” StigmaBusters swung into action, decrying the “hurtful” ad, and Nissan pulled it, which probably bothered any obsessive-compulsive people who worked at Nissan’s ad agency, who no doubt expected it to run a certain number of times before stopping.

Also: The New York Times has repeatedly offended StigmaBusters — you will observe that offending StigmaBusters is not hard — with its insensitive crossword puzzles. Often, “loony” is used as a clue for “nuts,” or “wacko” for “crazy.” This hurts the feelings of the actual loonies, nuts, wackos and crazies, apparently, and StigmaBusters complains on their behalf.

As you might suspect, Halloween is not a happy time for StigmaBusters, because exaggerations of mental illness often play a part in Halloween festivities and costumes. This year, StigmaBusters was upset with Disguise Inc., a company which manufactures a “Mental Patient” costume that consists of one (1) straitjacket. I am appalled by this, too: One straitjacket, and you think that’s a costume? Ooh, look, I put on a backpack, now I’m a student!

Anyway, one of Disguise Inc.’s major retail outlets is Spencer Gifts, a chain of mall stores specializing in unusual (i.e., tasteless) merchandise. Spencer classifies the “Mental Patient” thing as a “teen costume,” prompting StigmaBusters to observe that items making light of mental illness should not be targeted at teens, especially when teen suicide (often the result of mental disorders) is so high. “Is Spencer Gifts really trying to become known as a merchant of death?” they ask.

Spencer’s official response is, uh, no, we’re not; would you like to buy a filthy greeting card? For myself, I would like to add that this world needs a lot more of getting over it and a lot less of looking for things to be offended by. I am reminded of the words of Brigham Young, who said, “Anyone who gets offended when no offense was intended is a complete nimrod,” or words to that effect. Of course, then he was vilified by the powerful Nimrod Anti-Defamation League, but what can you do?

Originally, this was going to be a column about craziness in general, complete with a paragraph about the time I thought I was going crazy because I heard voices arguing in my head. (I'll save it for another column, and hopefully I'll wedge it in there so well you'll forget that it was left over from this column.)

But I reflected on my first paragraph, where I wondered whether the ATM message would offend crazy people, and I thought: Do crazy people get offended? Or more likely, does someone get offended on their behalf? Thirty seconds of browsing and there I was at the NAMI Web site. Our friend the Internet!

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