Madness

On Tuesday I’m leading a group discussion at the Manchester branch of Cafe Psychologique. The title of the evening is Madness and I thought that for this blog post I might post a quick outline of my intended introduction to the two halves of the evening.

What I present below can be, in some ways, interpreted as an attack on some discourses in relation to the experience of ‘madness’ or ‘psychosis’. As usual I would like to argue that critique of a concept in no way seeks to diminish, or invalidate, the experiences of those who suffer from forms of mental distress consistent with diagnoses such as Schizophrenia or other psychotic presentations.

What is madness?

For the purpose of this argument I want to consider Madness as Psychosis – although I accept that this point is not entirely resistant to challenge as the concept of madness may extend beyond psychosis.
Psychosis as represented by the presence of reality distortions – hallucinations and delusional belief for example. The current diagnostic systems (ICD-10 and DSM 5) are atheoretical in their account and therefore, in my opinion, of little value in describing experience.
Biological accounts of madness describe the concept of stress – vulnerability, that an individual inherently susceptible (commonly couched in heritable genetic terms) is responding to a stress producing the ‘illness’ response.
Is this the only possible interpretation? That ‘psychosis’ can be disabling and clearly represents disorder is surely incontestable? But what if this visible psychosis – noisy hallucination and highly disturbed behaviour represents not a pathological state but a desperate seeking for meaning and stability, that is the development of defence? A second state would need to therefore exist – that of ‘quiet madness’ as described by Darian Leader would be one such possible explanation (What is Madness?)
This raises a key question in need of further exploration – is it possible that madness, psychosis, represents not a purely pathological state but instead a search for state, or subsequently a state of stability that allows the individual to function within society in the face of previous psychosocial distress? What would be the implications of such a theory for ‘treatment’ and ‘cure’?

Institutional madness.

Concepts of madness are often inherently atomistic – considering the individual divorced from their social milieu, or corpus. But is this account in itself not simply a representation of the function of madness in that it provides safety for the individual in response to experience of a traumatic other?
If madness can possibly be conceptualised as a response to psychosocial distress – is it possible that this behaviour can extend beyond the individual psychological to group psychological process? Can institutions become mad? There are some large examples of this process?
  1. Climate change / global warming: – Few now would contest the scientific reality that greenhouse gases, particularly carbon dioxide are influencing the Earth’s climate. Yet still on a societal level little action is taken – there was precious little mention of the Environment within the recent UK election? Does climate change represent so traumatic a challenge to our current social state that we as a society simply choose to continue as if it does not exist with increasing exploration for fossil fuels, that if the predictions / models are correct, we will never be able to burn? (Keep it in the Ground)
  2. Neoliberalism and the politics of the ‘other’: – Neoliberalism represents the idealisation of the individual, striving, worker bettering themselves. Neoliberal discourse is replete with examples of how the concept of the other is introduced as an alien to be shunned, and scape goated, for our collective discomfort. Witness Striver vs Scrounger – or the role of Scottish electorate in the recent election? (Commentary by George Monbiot in the Guardian)
There are other, smaller scale examples, but by adopting a more particularist argument I fear being too controversial; although at the risk of weakening any claim. But is it possible that psychological processes such as psychosis can extend beyond the individual to social institutions and their behaviours and response?
P.S. – References to current political situations should be taken with a pinch of salt as I found the election results quite painful to watch…
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