Are you mad about the madosphere? language, humour and power

Are you mad about the madosphere? language, humour and power

Working in mental health, supporting the national Time to Change campaign, and delivering our own local campaigns to challenge stigma in Leeds, I am hyper sensitive to the use of language in relation to mental health. So when my eleven year old recently announced that the word ‘nutter’ was actually fine because her teacher her said it I came out in hives; and when I hear the word ‘mental’ casually thrown into conversation I tend to break out in a rash. But whilst having an allergy to language which I know can be experienced as hurtful, I also wonder if I get a big uptight about it as well (a polite version of what my family call me when I’m wagging my finger at them).

So when I came across the madosphere  – a term coined by The World of Mentalists (TWOM) blog as ‘our affectionate name for the mental health blogosphere’ – I was intrigued and thrilled. It felt like a fabulously transgressive word – one that can only be acceptably used if you’re in the gang perhaps, and one which I would never personally use out of this context.

My research focuses on the madosphere, or the mental health blogosphere as I tend to more tamely call it, and in my interviews I’ve been asking people for their thoughts about language in this space. Here are a few examples of what people have said:

It’s possible to get too caught up in the darkness that inevitably goes with depression, and some humour needs to be injected, however irreverent it may seem

 I think we have to make light of it sometimes in order to take back some control

Within the confines of TWOM, it’s completely acceptable. It’s like minded people, with something very powerful in common, coping with that very powerful something in whatever way possible

I also believe that acceptance of a condition is part of it. Someone who is very reluctant to share or even acknowledge that they have a mental health problem may find it cuts too close to the bone.

If someone I didn’t know well were to call me a mentalist to my face, I think then it would take on very different meaning.

These responses illuminate some common themes – the importance of context; re-appropriation of language as a means of taking back control; creating a sense of shared identity through common language; and integration or acceptance of mental distress as a pre-requisite for feeling comfortable with using words which can be used as terms of abuse.

Are you a mental health practitioner, someone who has experience mental health difficulties, perhaps you’ve never even thought of these issues before? What do you think about importance (or not) of language in the mental health blogosphere? Please do comment on this post – I’d love to hear your thoughts.

If you’re interested in the madosphere and would like to take part in my research project, you can find out more about it here. You can also get in touch with me at


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  1. I have no problem using terms like mad and nutter in themselves. However the madosphere itself as you have described it is a tight clique, and unless you conform you are deemed unacceptable.
    Direct language is a good thing as long as it is not used to exclude those who don’t hold the exact same opinions of everyone else in the gang.

    • Thank you for taking the time to read my post and leave a comment – really appreciate it. I agree that whilst language can create a common identity, the flip side of the coin is that it can at the same time exclude. My personal experience of the ‘madosphere’ is that there are a range of views and standpoints, for example there are often healthy debates on the TWOM blog in comments to posts. So the way you describe it is different to my experience. I wonder what you see as the conformity, how you would know it was deemed unacceptable and what the consequence would be of not conforming? I’d be interested to see what other people think about this. Thank you again for your comment.

  2. I think when you’re using codified language you have to be aware that there are those who have the key to that code and those who don’t. Yes we can get hung up on the pc-ness of language and we just have to let some things go. However the word mad often gets used in a sloppy way or a way in which it wishes to create shock or sensationalism – take the BBC3 series it’s a mad world – apart from one or two programmes it was the worst of car crash tv and why Time For Change collude with it is beyond me. I digress. MAD – mentally ill or insane. Most people with mental health issues aren’t mad, aren’t insane – ( i know MH fluctuates) reappropriating language in this case works within the cohort – otherwise it just serves – IMHO – to perpetuate stereotypes often fuelled through sloppy use of language. As a group we should be challenging the language used around MH, creating a newer more positive vocabulary rather than wearing the linguistic shackles of out moded models with out moded agendas.


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