The curious relationship between truth and madness

I’ve got an article in The Observer on the misunderstood relationship between truth and madness.

The definition of a ‘delusion’ has just been changed so it no longer has to be considered a ‘false belief’.

It turns out that this issue turns up regularly in world events, owing to the sad tendency for whistle-blowers to be ‘accused’ of being ‘mentally ill’ when others don’t like what they’re saying.

It’s not clear who forcibly sedated her in 1972. It’s not certain that she was admitted to a psychiatric ward in the following year. What’s definite though is that many people thought she was mad as she ranted about conspiracies in the White House during eccentric phone calls to the press. Questions about Martha Beall Mitchell’s sanity were encouraged by the Nixon administration, who consistently briefed against her and probably had her medicated against her will. But ultimately her claims were proven correct when the Watergate scandal broke.

It’s worth bearing in mind that we’re not talking about the everyday use of the term ‘delusion’ (typically meaning mistaken) but the psychiatric definition which describes intensely held beliefs that are impervious to reality.

They are fascinating in many ways but, as the article discusses, they do not necessarily mean that the person is wrong.
 

Link to Observer article on truth and delusion.

6 Comments

  1. Elizabeth Shanklin
    Posted August 4, 2013 at 3:44 pm | Permalink

    One of the tenants of narrative therapy is to help the client understanding the place of this thought, vision, belief within their lives rather than the therapist taking the position of “authority and holder of truth”. I’ve found this practice helpful for people who have been labelled “psychotic” in finding coherence within themselves and reducing the anxiety that comes to us when the society around us rejects us as mentally incompetent.

  2. helge
    Posted August 4, 2013 at 5:17 pm | Permalink

    something along those lines has recently been uncovered in germany

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gustl_Mollath

  3. Posted August 5, 2013 at 6:43 am | Permalink

    In Australia, the opposite can happen: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cornelia_Rau

  4. Posted August 19, 2013 at 10:34 pm | Permalink

    Interesting point… but then again what is truth an what is delusion can be a matter of perspective. Sometimes it can be hard to break out of your own to realize that the presumed insane is right instead.

  5. insidecenter
    Posted August 25, 2013 at 5:56 am | Permalink

    Truth is dead, replaced by “truth by consensus”. You are fired if you can’t take direction. If directed to agree to a lie, a sane person refuses and is fired. Only the insane survive, and they create the ball of confusion that contributes to the market demand for psychiatrists.

  6. Posted December 29, 2013 at 6:25 am | Permalink

    Martha Mitchell? Google “Hemingway FBI
    NY Times FOIA”. Hemingway was followed
    by J Edger Hoover & the FBI for 20 years
    since the early 1940’s to his death as
    per FOIA evidence obtained fairly recently.

    My point? FBI methods of surveillance
    deliberately mimicked the symptoms of
    psychosis when the person being followed
    tries to report what is happening to them.
    As the actor in the recent movie “Closed
    Circuit” says at one point, “I guess I’m
    supposed to be paranoid”, when he finally
    catches on to all the coincidences that
    weren’t. Hemingway was a big drinker?
    Yes he was. Hemingway was nuts? Yes he
    was. But apparently when “the Feds”
    really are after you they apply “nudge”
    theory b4 there was such a thing and
    if you can’t be nudged you are shoved in
    certain whatever direction “they” want.
    Until the person of interest is made aware
    they are being scrutinized at which point
    the ppl doing the scrutinizing don’t care
    if you know b/c your reputation has been
    ruined.


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