Monthly Archives: August 2011

A Tough Question

Gautier - Salpetriere

“So, what is madness?”

This was the question posed to me by a friend. Obvious and easy answer I thought, seeing as this is part of the job I do day in and day out.

“Well, its…” and then I stopped. I couldn’t answer it. Not if I wanted to produce an accurate and true answer. What is madness? Is it simply when people are not acting in their normal fashion? If that is the case, then we are all mad as when we are angry or upset then we do not act in our normal manner. ‘Road rage’ means many people are mad if the ‘normal’ fashion definition is accepted as well as love.

Is madness not conforming to the norms of society? Well, many people I know have speeding tickets so either they are mad because they have broken the law of the society or they are the sane ones because speeding tickets appear to be the norm! And what exactly are the norms of society anyhow?

So, is madness an illness? If it is then rates of this illness would be fairly consistent across the globe but we know that depending on where you live defines your illness. For example – schizophrenia. If schizophrenia is an illness then why are there different diagnostic criteria in countries around the world? Why do immigrants show higher levels of this illness but not in their own countries?

Do medics define madness? Insight appears to be on the diagnostic criteria for most illnesses (or the lack of it to be precise). I once read (Ron Coleman) that a patients level of insight simply depends on the extent to which a person agrees with their doctor – disagree with your doctor and you are obviously lacking in insight and are therefore mentally ill. Or agree with the doctor that you are ill and you are again obviously ill. So madness cannot be defined by doctors (as any reader of Thomas Szasz will understand).

Perhaps madness is the system we live in, where budget cuts mean people are unable to access basic and fundamental needs/services yet some people are paid millions to kick a ball around a pitch.

Perhaps madness is trying to define madness.

I still cannot answer this question satisfactorily.

Do you have an answer?

(NB we have a temporary fault blocking comments – hopefully this will be resolved soon)

Image above from Wikimedia commons:

“English: 1857 lithograph by Armand Gautier, showing personifications of dementia, megalomania, acute mania, melancholia, idiocy, hallucination, erotic mania and paralysis in the gardens of the Hospice de la Salpêtrière. Reprinted in Madness: A Brief History (ISBN 978-0192802668), from which this version is taken.”