Sunday, May 17, 2009


Mental illness is a fascinating subject, all the more because so little is known about it. You get the feeling that there must be hundreds of kinds of mental illness, yet books on the subject usually list only a dozen. The mind seems to break down in fairly predictable ways, meaning I guess that we're prone to certain kinds of disorders a lot more than others.

One disorder has to do with hearing voices that aren't there. From a little reading on the net I got the feeling that the treatment of this illness is changing. Gone are the days when the patient is told the voices are a figment of his imagination. Nowadays the doctor might accept the reality of the voices and simply try to teach the patient to cope with them, to have constructive conversations with them. 

Here's (above and below) some excerpts from a pamphlet for people who hear voices. It's not very judgemental. The idea is assure the patient that what they're going through isn't as scary as it seems, and that they have some control over it.

My hunch is that a lot of people with this problem get only a pamphlet and some drugs. I don't know enough about the subject to know if this constitutes woeful neglect or simply a recognition that the cause of this problem is mysterious and treatment reasonably has to be restricted to the little bit that we know actually works.

Mental patients are forming Mad Pride groups, mostly to resist compulsory electroshocks, and to get more free benefits from the government, but also to persuade the public that mental disorders don't always prevent people from doing good work on the job.  

The most articulate mad person I've encountered is Spikol (above). She accepts questions from YouTubers and I have to resist the urge to deluge her with them.  What cures actually work? What should parents do? What did she think of the book, "Franny and Zooey?", and the movie "Royal Tannenbaums? Should the state sterilize? Does she agree with coercive institutionalization? Can mad people cope with their problem without curing it, like Russell Crowe did in "Beautiful Mind?" How many crazy people are there? What does she think of the therapy attempted by the author of  "The Criminal Mind?" Does madness stimulate creativity? Are mad people attracted to other mad people? Why do some mad people become violent? Are all violent people mad? Does therapy help? Do previously mad people make the best therapists?  Why is depression so common? Is it curable? What are the most helpful books? Does madness often just go away with time? What's the relationship between habbit and madness? 

Here (above) she talks about the downside of electroshock therapy. Elsewhere she admits that it does seem to work for some people.


Bitter Animator said...

That approach for the voices sounds like a reasonable one to me. After all, regardless of whether they are real or not, people still hear them.

If you had a pain in your arm and a doc ran every test he could think of and found nothing, there are some docs that would tell you it's psychosomatic and that the pain isn't real. In some sense and under certain circumstances, they could be right. That doesn't actually help the person with the pain.

And, even going down to the basics, if a child is scared of an imagined monster, telling the child that there are no such things as monsters does absolutely nothing. It is a far more productive strategy to create a method of deterring or removing the monsters but the child actually has to see you taking them seriously to buy into it.

As far as ECT goes, the idea of forced electric shocks is an absolutely hideous one. It is digusting.

The history of psychiatry is dark and nasty and I don't think that period is over yet.

For example, as I mentioned recently in my blog, being a sufferer of depression, so having my own mental health issues, had I been born 50 years ago, it's entirely possible that I could have ended up lobotomised as a result.

A pick through the eye and into the brain. The only result - brain damage.

The theory was that destroying parts would have them grow back better - fixed. The theory was wrong. They don't grow back.

And yet António Egas Moniz won a Nobel prize for this active brain damage. Walter Freeman took the concept and went wild with it, even doing one in a hotel room. He famously supervised the lobotomy of Rosemary Kennedy, sister of John F. Kennedy, when she was 23.

The official story at the time was that she was mentally handicapped.

The truth was that her father objected to her mood swings. She was lobotomised. She was left with the mind of a child, incapable of speech, incontinent and totally dependent on healthcare workers. She was shipped off to a home and eventualy died in 2005, aged 86.

For mood swings.

That's psychiatry for you. So for me, I'd trust somebody who is certified 100% bashit crazy over someone with the power to force someone to undergo ECT or any other forced "therapy".

Mordecai Ali Van Allen O'Shea said...

Please excuse me, but what do you think of this guy Scriabin?

I think the creative outputs of the mad are interesting (providing that the madness benefits the creativity). Like Spikol's interesting talk about nostrils.

Lester Hunt said...

I agree with everything Bitter Animator said.

The fact that something doesn't exist (those voices!) doesn't mean that you don't have to deal with it. As a professor of philosophy, I deal with unreal things everyday. Non-existent things rule!

The Great Explainer re the medical-state complex, the Marx of Madness, is IMHO Thomas Szasz. (See The Myth of Mental Illness, 1960.)

Unknown said...

Mental illness is kinda freaky to have. Around the start of this year, I went to a mental hospital with my mom for school treatment and realize that I had experienced everything on the crazy list at least once or twice. I think it's normal to have some of these things happen at least a little.

John A said...

I had read that Mack Sennet, back in the days of silent comedy, employed a person called "the Wild Man", an actual crazy person who would contribute to the script when the the writers had run out of ideas or had written themselves into a corner, or onto cliff in one instance. After explaining the scene to the wild man, he'd think it over, and come up with an answer like, "they jump onto a cloud and float away." Mack and the writers would look at each other,and then say ,"let's do it!"

Craig said...

As a puppet maker and puppeteer, it is my calling to give physical form to the voices in my head, then make them come-to-life in the imagination of others.

pappy d said...

Those voices in your head can give you some bad advice, though.

Jennifer said...

Good post, Uncle Eddie. Even though that we have much more information about mental illness as we had 20 years ago, there's still a lot that we don't understand.

My dad was a psychiatrist. I remember him touting how drugs and behavioral therapy revolutionized mental health treatment. In the same vein, I also remember him having to constantly study the journals and the PDRs, as well as attend numerous seminars and lectures, because new information has been uncovered and the treatments have changed.

Bitter Animator's comment is fantastic! Unfortunately a number of doctors' don't actually help the person with the pain. I could go off about doctors, but I don't want to hijack the thread.

thomas said...

John A - I saw a bit of Nickelodeon, a film by Peter Bogdonovich, that had a scene with a director prompting a *crazy" person for script ideas. I don't know whether or not the director was supposed to be Sennett, or not, but I'm sure it was based on the story that you're refering to.

Kelly Toon said...

This is one of the reasons that Carl Jung is one of my personal heroes. He really took the time to LISTEN to the fantasies of the mentally unbalanced. Not only did he listen, he actually cared, and regarded with gravity and significance the themes of their mad fancies.

There are multiple case studies involving truly fascinating synchronicities: For example, Jung once analyzed a man who would stand at a window and stare into the sun, rocking back and forth for hours. One day, he told Jung that there was a tube or tunnel extending from the sun, which was a phallus, and from it the wind originated. It swung to and fro as the wind changed. Jung noted this story as particularly creative.

It was not until years later, at a lecture concerning ancient egyptian symbolism and mythology,t hat he learned of an obscure and ancient legend with the exact same device: The sun with a dangling tube, from which issued the wind over the world.

This is only one of numerous cases where the ramblings of the clinically insane happened to match closely to already established mythology. In the above case, the chance that the crazy man had any former knowledge of the specific mythology which mirrored his own is astronomical.

All of this helped confirm for Jung the idea that humans are born with an inherent knowledge of all the stories of all the peoples. A collective unconscious, or a shared memory, which only the subconcious mind has ready access to.

Thanks for sharing your ideas on the subject!

Anonymous said...

The world needs Mad Pride parades, celebrating peoples' demons in public. And Alexander Scriabin was onto something akin to "Fantasia" well before Disney and prior to color film. It wasn't animation but it involved music, color and visuals.

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

Bitter: That story of Rosemary Kennedy was harrowing. I'd never heard it before. Sometimes the cure is worse than the disease!

Sean: Scriabin's good, but I've never heard anything of his that was really memorable.

Lester: I read a little of Szacz a long time ago and wasn't impressed. It seems to me that there definitely is such a thing as mental illness. I'll try him again.

Jennifer: By all means hijack the thread! It's an interesting subject! Or if you prefer, post about it on your own blog and link to it here.

Kelly: Fascinating story about Jung and the tube!!!

John A: Fascinating!

pappy d said...

I'd never heard that about Rose Kennedy either. Szacz's ideas seem more reasonable in a 1960 context. They even used to use lobotomy to cure alcoholism & homosexuality. If all you have is a hammer, every problem starts to look like a nail.

Bitter Animator said...

Yes, the Rosemary Kennedy story is really awful. She's just one of so many though.

As Pappy D says, it was used as a "cure" for so many things, including (like Kennedy) mood swings or even being a disobedient wife.

A man called Howard Dully wrote a book called 'My Lobotomy' that is very interesting. He went through one at age 12, apparently because his stepmother just didn't like the way he acted.

Doctor after doctor told her there was absolutely nothing wrong with him. But the same Dr.Freeman who did Rosemary Kennedy's went ahead and lobotomised this 12 year-old boy, even taking pictures of the process.

He was lucky in that he didn't end up completely incapacited, like so many, but he was always different. If I remember correctly, he described it as feeling as if he was without a soul, or had something missing from his soul.

Years later, he decided to find out about it - what happened? And why his father let it happen.

It's not a pleasant read but it's certainly interesting.

Freeman seemed to be some kind of lobotomising Barnum, taking photos and showing off. I think one of his claims to fame was that he once lobotomised 25 women in one day.

He lobotomised one woman to cure headaches. Like Rosemary Kennedy, she was left with the mind of a child.

Horrific stuff.

That people with various mental illness or disorders feel the need to organise to act to protect themselves and stand up for their own interests seems entirely sane to me given a history like that.

Jack G. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Eddie Fitzgerald said...

Biyyer: Fascinating!

Anonymous said...

No one is getting forced ECT anymore. It has been a long long time since that sort of thig happened.

ECT is used for severe refractory depression where either drugs and therapy has not worked and the patient agrees, or where the patient is so depressed they have shut down and would need a feeding tube to be placed!

I taught the psychiatry class at our Med College and have since specialized in Anesthesiology and see maybe 10 ECTs a week. They are pretty benign now. The current is much lower, the patient is paralyzed so they can't hurt themselves, and the main side effect is a few hours of confusion and occasionally some "word salad", which is where the patient tries to say something but random words come out. They realize what is going on and you have to tell them that it will only last a little while. Most laugh about it later (A good sign compared to lying in bed starving to death) and one guy actually asked my nurse to record him if he had it again. He did, and she did, and he played it for his family.

The goal of ECT isn't to cure depression, although in the minority of cases it can do that. The goal is to break the untreatable deep depression so that the meds and therapy can work before the person shuts down again.

As for the lady in the video. Its pretty clear she is having some thought content and process issues. Makes for an interesting show though.

And psychiatrists are not telling people to talk to their voices or that they are "real" in the sense people are making here. They do know that there are neural connections misfiring and the person is actually hearing the voices, so it is "real" in that sense, but they are not having people reason and engage the voices. That does no good. They are having people realize what they are and try to work around them, but not to encourage them to talk to them.

And Jung was crazy. Read his actual writings and it is clear he was as crazy as many of his patients. I wonder if he was doing the Coke like Freud did... may explain it.

And the guy with the Egyptian delusion/myth/whatever you want to call it. How is it unreasonable that the person would be exposed to that? Starting in the 40s and 50s we started seeing tons of alien abductions and alien obsessed delusions, and many were consistent with each other. In Jung's time Egyptology was VERY popular both to the upper classes and the common man. Even if not, the idea that the big visable thing in the sky blows the air around isn't that special.

Anonymous said...

Hey Uncle Eddie - long time follower, first time commenter... er. I was thinking about your blog on the train today, especially about the entry Mad Pride and the comments by Anonymous. I guess, as with many things, everyone is a little bit right and a little bit wrong about most things. Like Spikol, I have experienced long term major depression which resulted in numerous hospitalisations and on three of those occasions I underwent varying numbers of ECT episodes (the most intensive being 18 treatments over a 6 week period). Unlike Spikol, I was not issued with any incontinence products and fortunately all the staff I ever encountered were most empathetic. However, I did experience headaches, tension in my jaw, disorientation and significant short term (and ultimately long term) memory loss. A number of years later there are still large pockets of memory that I never regained, I believe it has probably been exacerbated by the ECT but I think such a long and entrenched depression has wreaked havoc on my comprehension skills and memory – which provides great opportunities for my siblings to invent histories for me! My protests of “I would never get drunk and fall asleep in the shower recess, missing Christmas dinner and forever disgracing the family” are only half hearted, because I can’t really be sure... but then I am also painfully aware of what my sibling’s idea of fun is too. It can be disconcerting to look at photos of your adult self and not remember the occasion when it was taken. I am aware of a number of people who have benefited from ECT, even though I don’t believe I was one of them. Ah, but there is a happy end note... I am now the most ‘well’ I have been in years thanks to a combination of a therapy program that worked for me and greater access to mental health services and probably good luck: I still find myself weeping sometimes during the news (but that’s probably healthy) and I sometimes become overwhelmed with anxiety (but that’s probably because I’m doing things I haven’t done in years). When I think of my years in ‘the wilderness’ I do feel a sort of pride: In the same way those that have survived a terrifying holiday-from-hell might – so you planned on sun, sea and sand but you got a cyclone, a military-cop, a missing captain and a drunk navigator! You can only wear the scabs and scars of the Bed Bug bites with pride... what else is there do? A note from the Outpost...