Mad, Bad or Just Different

“…it doesn’t automatically follow that he must be mad just because what he has done is inexplicable.”

 – Dr. Simon Wessely, of the Institute of Psychiatry at King’s College London   ( 1.)

For some time now I have been frustrated by ‘the mad versus bad’ debate that comes out pretty much every time there is a terrible crime committed.  I’m neither a psychiatrist or a criminologist, so I’m not going to discuss it from the perspective of how we handling offenders, but rather than how this ‘mad versus bad’ debate is something that simply adds to the stigma of mental illness.

Today I was reading some comments on a New Zealand news website.  The subject being discussed was the New Zealand Government’s recent announcement that it intends to shut down (or merge) a lot of schools in the Canterbury area, as a result of the earthquakes we experienced in 2010/11.  The announcement has angered many Christchurch residents and so the debate I was reading was getting quite heated.

The subject of discussion was absolutely nothing to do with mental illness, but there was quite a difference of opinion between one reader and the majority.  Here’s a snippet of some of the comments I read:

“You are one sick person.”

“Go check yourself into a mental facility because you are quite likely delusional.”

“Don’t take any notice of that retard.”

“Only someone with a mental illness would make these comments. “

It doesn’t really matter whether there was a right or a wrong in the argument that was taking place.  My opinion was that there was nothing abusive, or harmful being said by the person these comments were directed at.  He simply had a different opinion.  Personally, I didn’t agree with his opinion either, but not for one moment did I assume he must have a mental illness. But it came across loud and clear that the general consensus of other readers was that the dissenter had an opinion different to most and therefore he was assumed to have a mental illness.

The quotation at the beginning of this post related to that of Norwegian, Anders Behring Brevik, and this is by no means a comment on his sanity, or his actions.  I have used it because it is used exactly the same way simply because people don’t agree with what is said.  That’s a huge leap of assumption to make, let alone an attack on those who legitimately have diagnosed mental illnesses.

What strikes me is that having an unpopular opinion, let alone badness, or even evil, is not a symptom of mental illness.  There is no reason why mental illness should have been an issue in the debate I was reading, and I am inclined to think that it is a case of stigmatising people with mental illness.

I know these types of generalisations are made every day and the media is very good at expanding and encouraging them.  I chose not to get involved in the debate I read.  I’m realising that I have to pick my fights, and had I picked this one I would have potentially taken the discussion away from the real focus of the discussion on the site.

I just get frustrated because it simply adds to the stigma we deal with every day.  Personally I have regularly found that if my opinion is different from the majority then there is a tendency of those around me to put it down to my mental illness.  They might say, “don’t worry, Cate is just overly emotional”  or “Cate’s getting carried away by her emotions again”.

Actually I get really angry when my opinion gets disregarded solely on the basis of my mental health.  If there is some sound, factual reason why my opinion should be disregarded then fine, but not a generalisation that my mental illness is the cause of my difference.  I have a brain, and I have opinions, like anyone else.  Yes, my mental health contributes to the basis of those thoughts, as does anyone’s, but it is not the cause.

It’s actually okay to be different.  It’s okay to have opinions different from the majority.  But it’s not okay for them to be simply pushed aside because of a diagnosis of mental illness.

“I also learned that a person was not necessarily bad just because you did not agree with him, and that if you believed in something, you had better be prepared to defend it.” 

―    Hillary Rodham Clinton


“We judge others instantly by their clothes, their cars, their appearance, their race, their education, their social status. The list is endless. What gets me is that most people decide who another person is before they have even spoken to them. What’s even worse is that these same people decide who someone else is, and don’t even know who they are themselves.” 

―    Ashly Lorenzana


14 thoughts on “Mad, Bad or Just Different

  1. I get really frustrated too.

    I think people are terrified of violence–both that it could happen to them and that they could commit it. “Only crazy people could do something like that,” they tell themselves. That statement reassures them that they won’t be victimized because they’d be able to spot someone crazy enough to do that. It also reassures them that they’d never do something like that because they’re not crazy.

    The problem with the “Anyone who would do something like that is crazy” argument is that it’s a logical fallacy. Several, actually–affirming the consequent, petitio principii/begging the question, and circular reasoning. I’d even argue it’s an appeal to public opinion because anyone who said people who commit extremely violent acts aren’t necessarily crazy would be shouted down because “everyone KNOWS only a crazy person would do those things.”

    The unfortunate and frightening fact is its entirely possible to be sane but also hate-filled and violent. Similarly, being crazy doesn’t make you hate-filled and violent.

    1. I totally agree with you. And I think the fallacy that the general population would recognise someone ‘crazy’ is crazy. Mental illness is so different to how it is on the movies.

  2. John Richardson

    People tend to make comments like that when they have nothing logical to add to the discussion. They don’t like what someone says but can’t think of anything of substance to say in reply, but they’re not ready to run up the white flag and surrender. Personally, my favorite comeback in those situations is, “You’re funny like Bugs Bunny.” It buys me time to think of something profound to say, which doesn’t always happen, and in truth I happen to like Bugs Bunny and think he’s pretty smart and funny, so I truly don’t consider it a put down. We all need to learn to be more considerate and gentle in the way we talk with each other. I don’t like the nasty comments either, and to make comments that may hurt innocent people as an unintended consequence is just not necessary.

  3. Pingback: Self-Stigma… Am I My Own Worst Enemy? | Infinite Sadness… or hope?

  4. Pingback: When Do You Lose Your Right To Be Treated Humanely | Infinite Sadness… or hope?

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