The Mighty Logo

'Psycho' is Not an Insult: Psychotic vs. Psychopathic

Don’t call someone a “psycho”

Psycho has been adopted into our society as a colloquialism. People refer to a person’s behavior as “psycho” when they don’t agree with it, or they feel they’re acting irrationally. Unfortunately, this is not accurate. Psycho is short for “psychotic” and psychosis is an extremely real mental state that affects many individuals. People living with psychotic disorders such as paranoid schizophrenia experience delusions, visual and auditory hallucinations, and find question their reality. It’s not funny or cute to call some a psycho. It’s offensive to those people who live with psychosis.


A psychopath is exceptionally different from all of these things. Psychopaths have a personality disorder where they don’t feel empathy. They try to mimic those around them and find ways to manipulate others for their gain. Psychopath vs sociopath — some people believe that psychopathy is a part of antisocial personality disorder. Famous individuals who had this diagnosis are Charles Manson and Ted Bundy. Psychopaths have no problem doing what they want, even if it hurts others. Here are some symptoms of the disorder:

  • Charm
  • Inflated sense of self-worth
  • Lack of empathy
  • Persistent need for stimulation
  • Disingenuous emotions
  • Manipulating others for their gain
  • Lack of remorse

If you find that you’re interacting with a psychopath be extremely careful.

Why psycho is not an insult

When you call someone a psycho, you may be inferring that the person either has a personality disorder or are experiencing psychosis. Psychosis is a mental state. There is nothing inherently bad about being “psychotic.” A person with bipolar disorder may have psychotic features. An individual with schizophrenia experiences psychosis, and they are not inherently dangerous during this time. People who live with schizophrenia often are stigmatized as dangerous when they are not. They are experiencing stimuli that are disruptive to their functioning, such as hallucinations, which can be seeing things that aren’t there or hearing voices, but they are not a danger to those around them. That’s why calling someone a psycho is wrong.

Descriptive language matters

Calling a person psychotic is a cop-out. You’re not dealing with the issue at hand. You need to address what they did to hurt or anger you. You’re upset with them, and rather than name calling, think about what they did to upset you. When you disagree with a person’s behavior, you can use descriptive language to address what a person is doing that bothers you rather than defer to the term “psycho” or “psychotic.” We don’t have to get along with everyone we meet. It’s unreasonable to believe that there won’t be disagreements among human beings. But how you disagree matters. Don’t resort to name calling. Tell the person how their behavior is affecting you. You can use I-messages. Not the kind on Apple products, but things like “I feel ___ when you ___.” For example, I feel hurt when you tell me that I’m a terrible person. That’s how you can communicate your feelings with others without resorting to calling them names.

Mental health affects everyone in unique ways

Mental health isn’t a one-fits-all situation. Everyone has different things that impact our mental health. Some people deal with debilitating anxiety attacks, while others cope with depression. Some individuals deal with mental illness that has psychotic features such as bipolar disorder or paranoid schizophrenia. It depends on the person and what they’ve experienced in their lives. Some individuals have personality disorders that make it difficult to function, but one thing is certain — therapy helps people with mental health issues. Whether you’re seeing a therapist in your local area or online, it’s essential to take care of your mental health.

Getty photo by nickalbi

Want more of The Mighty?
You can find even more stories on our Home page. There, you’ll also find thoughts and questions by our community.
Take Me Home