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Thursday, November 29, 2012

Locked Up for Crazy

My friend Red once posted this: "They don't lock you up for being crazy, they lock you up for acting crazy."

When I read it, I laughed so hard I almost fell out of my chair.  It is true: there are plenty of people who are crazy who don't get locked up.  So, why am I posting this?

Well, previously I posted on marijuana and mental illness (, and didn't quite finish my thought.  One of the links I put up had to do with the stigma of mental illness and how we, as a society react to it.  So, why do we assign a stigma to mental illness?

There are a number of reasons: first, people with mental illness have impaired judgement.  They make bad decisions, and so there's always a risk factor to themselves and others.  Someone who is 'high' gets the same stigma.

But, second and perhaps more important, is that we value, as a society, human life because it is intelligent.  We place a high value on intelligence.  That's why we emphasize education in the secular world and the study of Scriptures in religious traditions.

Because people with mental illness don't process information the way an 'intelligent' person does, we assume that the mentally ill are 'stupid' and therefore 'less-than.'

There is a third reason, a bit less influential, and that is that the mentally ill suffer for their disease, and suffering makes human life far less valuable in the secular world.  Think about it: there are many people who justify euthanasia because it 'ends suffering.'  They would never think of killing a healthy person.  Others will justify killing a child in the womb because it would be 'unwanted' and thus subjected to a life of suffering from deprivation.

I'm going to focus on the second one (in part because I am sick right now and don't want to think much about suffering) because I think that we have a hard time reconciling the intelligence of the mentally ill with their behavior.

We lock people up for 'acting crazy.'

But, acting crazy is not the same as acting stupid.  A person who makes bad decisions again and again is not mentally ill, and the reverse holds true.

It is undeniable that addiction is a type of mental illness.  As with all mental illness, it is complex and not entirely understood, though I think we can say that it is far less 'organic' than schizophrenia or psychosis.

We often look at addictive behavior as stupid.  Some of it certainly is.  But, it is not come by through stupidity or low IQ.  It comes through a broken mind.

But, just so that you can see where I'm coming from on this, I will take the opposite tack and say that intelligence does not always produce the most rational decisions either.

Now I know you are scratching your head, because we assume that intelligence governs one's ability to make good decisions.  Well, that is true when it comes to attaining facts.  But, there is another axis to decision-making: morality.

Education does not make someone moral.  Morality and the ability to care about others cannot be taught, nor does a PhD make anyone more or less likely to be moral.  Education gives information, and that's about it.

The mentally ill do not necessarily lose their morality because of their disease.  While they may have gross misconceptions about the people around them, the truth is that they are far less violent than, let's say, their 'chronically normal' peers.  Even mental illness does not entirely rob a person of his will and his reason.

The real problem of addiction and mental illness, at a social level, has to do with self-care.  In both cases, people with mental illness and addictions invariably become a drain on public systems.  This can be the family at first, but eventually the state will get involved in having to pay for treatment either of the disorder or something caused by the disorder.

People must be held accountable for their own self-care, and it is only through this approach that we can really engage those who are sick and have a fair standard: if you can care for yourself by your own rules, then do what you want... but if you can't care for yourself, then those who care for you will make the rules.

This is how we deal with childhood, right?  Children are 'wards' of their parents until they can 'self-care.'

Rather than arguing endlessly over law and programs, we first need to set a standard of self-care.  That's what being crazy really is: you are not caring for yourself.  After all, if you are crazy but can care for yourself, we just call you eccentric.  people have a right to be eccentric, but they do not have a right to be a burden without making any attempt to help themselves.

To refuse to help yourself makes you a candidate for an asylum rather than a hospital (

I think we need to clarify what it means to make good decisions and what it really means to be crazy.

Thanks to Red and Christina for all the input.

1 comment:

  1. As one with a mental illness, I've often thought how having a mental illness is not the same as being insane. I've laughed very hard at the paradox, too, because most people do insane things, some more than others, yet, these things are considered "normal". I see mental illness as mental dysfunction/impairment which can affect judgement, but not necessarily mean that one does not have discernment. As Father George has brought morality into question, the whole thing becomes an entirely different problem, which ultimately determines what real insanity is. A personal definition of insanity would be: doing insane things for the sake of doing insane things (thus, no morality).

    And, just recently I told myself that for an entire planet to live as if there is no God is the most insane thing. Not saying it's not possible, but for it to actually happen? Wow, did God ever get to see and do it all? :)