This question is often asked in a joking manner at the end of an individual’s first counseling appointment. Underneath the joking exterior, there is fear about being labeled as “crazy,” and a discomfort about needing mental health treatment.

The word “crazy” comes up a lot in counseling. Sometimes people are told by family and friends that they are acting “crazy” when they show strong emotions. Others are told that only “crazy” people see psychologists. Other times, antidepressants are referred to as “crazy pills.” This labeling creates deep feelings of shame and embarrassment, and can prevent many people from seeking mental health treatment.

When my patients express fear of being “crazy,” I ask them what that word means to them. Usually, they are unable to explain this, but have a feeling that this is a very negative label and an attack on their character. Since “crazy” has no specific definition, it is easy to use this word in a hurtful manner.

Instead of focusing on the word “crazy,” I encourage people to think about what brought them into counseling in the first place. We discuss the diversity of human emotion and behavior, and the common experiences of all people. Sadness, fear, grief, insecurity, and relationship struggles are universal experiences of all people. When individuals begin to have difficulty coping with any of these aspects of life, they may develop depression, anxiety, or another mental health illness.

May is Mental Health Month. The American Psychological Association is working to educate the public about mental health issues. Everyone can take part in helping reduce the stigma of seeking psychological treatment. Work to eliminate the word “crazy” from your vocabulary, and instead work to understand your emotions and the emotions of others. Developing understanding and compassion for yourself and others is the first step toward decreasing mental health stigma and breaking through the barriers that prevent individuals from seeking treatment.