Main piece: In mental hospitals or treatment centers, patients will sometimes refer to their hospital or program as the “Loony Bin.”
Context: The informant (S) is originally from Marietta, Georgia, and their lineage traces back to Germany on both sides of their family. They are a high school student about to graduate and head out-of-state to college. They were raised Christian and consider themselves spiritual, but they do not align themselves with any organized religion. Our conversation took place over FaceTime while S cleaned their room and played Tame Impala in the background. The informant remembers this slang specifically because when they first walked into their room at the hospital, their new roommate exclaimed, “Welcome to the Loony Bin!” Funnily enough, S and their new friends ended up naming their group chat “The Loony Bin” after discharging from the hospital. While S sees the humor in the phrase, they’re wary of it, because “it reinforces this idea that mentally ill people are crazy – or ‘loony’ – when in fact we’re just normal people trying to get our brains to work correctly.”
Personal thoughts: The informant’s point about the phrase “Loony Bin” brings up complex questions of whether a harmful word or phrase can ever truly be “reclaimed.” If someone who has never experienced mental health difficulties referred to a mental hospital as a “Loony Bin,” many patients of mental hospitals might feel ridiculed or offended. However, when a patient themself uses the term (like with S’s example), the connotation is different – that person is most likely saying “Loony Bin” in a fond or humorous or exasperated way, as the phrase itself sounds silly. It brings lightness and childishness to a dark, serious situation, which can often be a relief for many patients. Additionally, the casual, humorous phrasing of “Loony Bin” somewhat de-stigmatizes mental health treatment, as “mental hospital” sounds taboo to many. Even if S is right about the phrase reinforcing that patients are “crazy,” there can be strength in normalizing looniness. What is so bad about it? Wouldn’t a “loony” person feel life more intensely and freely despite the circumstances they’re in? These are all important things to consider when asking whether the reclaiming of a phrase would be more beneficial than harmful.