On Sunday night in Flint, Michigan, Democratic presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders thought it would be cute to hint that the Republican presidential candidates were mentally ill.
“When I’m elected president, we’re going to invest a lot of money into mental health and when you watch these Republican debates you know why we need to invest in mental health,” the Vermont senator joked at the last Democratic debate before the Michigan primary.
Bernie Sanders, mental illness is not a joke. Depression, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia are not funny buzzwords to hurl at opponents. “Mentally ill” does not mean stupid or incompetent. Feeding into harmful cultural stereotypes about people who think differently to knock other people down is neither progressive nor amusing; it is regressive and cruel.
Sanders claims to care about supporting the mentally ill, as he brags about the money he will spend on mental health as president, but he still thinks mental illness is an appropriate insult.
As I have previously written, “Much of mental illness is socially constructed. By using medical diagnoses to condemn patterns of thinking, we stigmatize and alienate anyone who thinks differently from what the capitalist, patriarchal state will accept.”
To those who are stigmatized and marginalized by harmful characterizations of mental illness, Sanders’ remarks are nothing new. We hear comments just like them every day in the news, from our families and friends, from strangers. Every time we are lumped in with a demagogical presidential hopeful or a mass shooter under the pretense of helping us, we fall further to the margins.
Bernie Sanders, and all those who tote us around to further their political careers: mental illness is not a joke, and joking at the expense of those you claim to care about is the opposite of being an ally.