Lawmakers vote to scrap archaic term in Arizona mental-health law

Lawmakers agree to stop defining mentally ill as 'idiots'
2013-04-09T00:00:00Z Lawmakers vote to scrap archaic term in Arizona mental-health lawHoward Fischer Capitol Media Services Arizona Daily Star
April 09, 2013 12:00 am  • 

PHOENIX - Hoping to encourage people to get the treatment they need, state lawmakers gave final approval Monday to repealing outdated state laws referring to the mentally ill as "idiots."

Arizona has extensive state laws that deal with mental disorders. And the statutes that directly address diagnosis and treatment have medically correct definitions.

But Jill Hogan, who told lawmakers she suffers from mental illness, said she and others found something else while looking at the state's law books: a definition that defines "mentally ill person" to include "an idiot, an insane person, a lunatic or a person non compos."

"We were kind of shocked that Arizona would have a definition for mentally ill person so archaic as this one," she told lawmakers during legislative hearings. "So we decided to do something about it."

That "something" was contacting Rep. Heather Carter, R-Cave Creek, who not only represents the north Phoenix area where Hogan lives but also chairs the House Health Committee.

Carter agreed the language needed to go.

Hogan said this is more than a matter of being politically correct.

"I know the terror of having paranoia and I know the bondage of having a delusion and hallucinations," she told lawmakers. "I also know there's a lot of stigma to that."

Hogan said recent incidents in the news have not helped.

"Hearing things like 'monster' and 'lunatic' really does prevent people from getting treatment," she said - treatment Hogan said she was able to get, along with the support she needs, which allows her to function.

Carter agreed the issue is topical.

"Obviously we're having a lot of conversations around persons who suffer from mental illness," she said. "We need to make sure we're using accurate terminology that's based on either some sort of medical definition or a legal definition and not using just really charged, inaccurate and really offensive language.

Sen. Linda Lopez, D-Tucson, called the measure a good "first step."

This isn't the first time lawmakers have sought to update language in the statute books.

In 2007, legislators changed the term "Oriental" to "Asian" in most statutes.

And two years ago, lawmakers voted to scrap all references to "mental retardation," replacing that with "intellectual disability."

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