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Insanity

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Jenny
734104.  Mon Aug 16, 2010 11:02 am Reply with quote

The verdict of "not guilty by reason of insanity" was first introduced in Britain in 1843, but it was difficult to define 'insanity', especially in situations of serious poverty and deprivation. This is an excerpt from a book called The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher by Kate Summerscale, which is about a real life Victorian detective:

Kate Summerscale wrote:
"Many illegitimate babies were killed by poor and desperate women in Victorian England: in 1860, child murders were reported in the newspapers almost daily. Usually the victims were newborns, and the assailants were their mothers. In the spring of 1860, Sarah Gough, a housekeeper and cook at Upper Seymour Street, a mile or so from Upper Harley Street, killed her illegitimate child, parcelled it up and sent it by train from Paddington to a convent near Windsor. She was easily traced: in the package was a paper bearing the name of her employer.

"Juries showed compassion to women such as Sarah Gough, preferring to find them deranged than depraved. They were helped in this by new legal and medical ideas. In the law courts the 'McNaghten rule' had since 1843 allowed 'temporary insanity' to be used as a defense. (In January 1843 a Scottish woodturner, Daniel McNaghten, had fatally shot Sir Robert Peel's secretary, mistaking him for the Prime Minister.) Alienists detailed the kinds of madness to which the apparently and usually sane could fall victim: a woman might suffer from puerperal mania just before or after giving birth; any woman might be overcome by hysteria, and anyone might be struck by monomania, a form of madness that left the intellect intact - the sufferer could be emotionally deranged yet show cold cunning. By these criteria, any unusually violent crime could be understood as evidence of insanity. The Times put the dilemma neatly in an editorial of 1853:

"Nothing can be more slightly defined than the line of demarcation between sanity and insanity ... Make the definition too narrow, it becomes meaningless; make it too wide, and the whole human race becomes involved in the dragnet. In strictness we are all mad when we give way to passion, to prejudice, to vice, to vanity; but if all the passionate, prejudiced and vain people were to be locked up as lunatics, who is to keep the key to the asylum?"


Fascinating book.

 
plinkplonk
734157.  Mon Aug 16, 2010 3:38 pm Reply with quote

Bedlam is what most people associate with Victorian insanity. It was founded in fact in the 14th century, and its site is now the Imperial War Museum. The Bethelem Royal Hospital is now at Beckenham in Bromley. It is no longer thought of as an asylum, but a psychiatric hospital.

 
Bondee
734158.  Mon Aug 16, 2010 3:41 pm Reply with quote

Quote:
Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.


Often (this being QI, probably wrongly) attributed to Albert Einstein.

edit: A quick Google turns up with this...

Quote:
Misattributed to various people, including Albert Einstein and Mark Twain. The earliest known occurrence, and probable origin is Rita Mae Brown, Sudden Death (Bantam Books, New York, 1983), p. 68.

 
Flash
734186.  Mon Aug 16, 2010 6:13 pm Reply with quote

Yes, every quotation attributed to Einstein turns out to be misattributed - including, apparently:

 
RLDavies
734257.  Tue Aug 17, 2010 6:31 am Reply with quote

The legal definition of sanity has changed in its details through the years, but boils down to two points:
1. You know what it is that you're doing.
2. You know that it's wrong.

I think we'd all agree that someone who's so mentally incapacitated that they don't know right from wrong, or don't understand the reality of their actions (e.g. killing their neighbour because they believe he's Satan), can't reasonably be held responsible for their actions. As ever, the subsequent perversions of justice tend to come in once lawyers get their hands on things.

It was believed for centuries that women could be driven temporarily insane by the hormonal changes and stresses surrounding childbirth and lactation, even without any fevers brought about by infection. Mothers who killed children less than a year old were usually treated sympathetically and given this benefit of the doubt, long before the McNaghten rules.

 
plinkplonk
734484.  Wed Aug 18, 2010 6:59 am Reply with quote

Churchill in calling his manic depression a black dog may hark back to folklore of insanity being caused by demons (a black dog being a form of a demon).

Quote:

However, Churchill was writing at a time before the development of effective medication, when the main medical approach to mood disorders was psychoanalytic. Churchill's doctor, Lord Moran, wrote a memoir about his famous patient, emphasizing the black dog - it describes plenty of symptoms but no treatment. (Although when Churchill was almost 80, Dr Moran did prescribe some speed to give Sir Winston enough of a boost to make a final speech in Parliament.) (Article on Bipolar disorder).


So if there was medication earlier, would Churchill still give it this nickname? It is doubtful that Churchill thought it was an actual black dog or demon, but it shows a coping mechanism of putting 'mania' down to demons, when the medication wasn't there.

 
RLDavies
734498.  Wed Aug 18, 2010 8:11 am Reply with quote

Chronic illnesses -- especially ones that come and go -- are often personified. I knew my gallbladder pain as a malevolent, cunning personality with a repertoire of deliberate tricks and strategies. Migraines aren't quite so sentient, but they can still lurk and sneak.

I'm sure Churchill was following in this tradition in describing his depression as the black dog, a familiar but sinister presence that sometimes lurks out of sight, sometimes lunges and attacks, perhaps occasionally can be chained up and mastered.
http://www.healthieryou.com/exclusive/chanceth0196.html

I'm told gout is especially likely to be personified as a malevolently intelligent enemy. The 17th-century doctor Thomas Sydenham wrote eloquent descriptions of gout (which he suffered from)... but I can't find the quotation I'm looking for. Will add it here if it turns up.

 
plinkplonk
734523.  Wed Aug 18, 2010 11:57 am Reply with quote

RLDavies wrote:
Chronic illnesses -- especially ones that come and go -- are often personified. I knew my gallbladder pain as a malevolent, cunning personality with a repertoire of deliberate tricks and strategies. Migraines aren't quite so sentient, but they can still lurk and sneak.

I'm sure Churchill was following in this tradition in describing his depression as the black dog, a familiar but sinister presence that sometimes lurks out of sight, sometimes lunges and attacks, perhaps occasionally can be chained up and mastered.
http://www.healthieryou.com/exclusive/chanceth0196.html

I'm told gout is especially likely to be personified as a malevolently intelligent enemy. The 17th-century doctor Thomas Sydenham wrote eloquent descriptions of gout (which he suffered from)... but I can't find the quotation I'm looking for. Will add it here if it turns up.


I think this beastifying of pains and desires follows in the traditions of Jung as well. But if the black dog is a tradition, did anyone attempt exorcism on former depressives? Or sufferers of gout?

 
Ion Zone
734833.  Thu Aug 19, 2010 12:07 pm Reply with quote

Quote:
Bedlam is what most people associate with Victorian insanity.


I was referred to the New New Bedlam because of my depression. I never went though.

 
smiley_face
748620.  Sat Oct 02, 2010 5:22 pm Reply with quote

I wasn't aware Churchill had bipolar disorder, and can't seem to find too many reliable sources saying he did have it. I thought he had unipolar depression.

plinkplonk wrote:
So if there was medication earlier, would Churchill still give it this nickname? It is doubtful that Churchill thought it was an actual black dog or demon, but it shows a coping mechanism of putting 'mania' down to demons, when the medication wasn't there.

Firstly, mania and depression are two different things. (They can sometimes overlap but we won't complicate matters).
Mania is elation or irritability, overactivity, loss of inhibitions, increased energy, decreased need for sleep, etc.
Depression is sadness, apathy, loss of energy, negative thinking, tiredness, etc.

Manic depression (or bipolar disorder as it is now known) is where patients experience depression and mania, sometimes separately, sometimes at the same time. "Depression" is just that - patients only have depression, they do not have mania.

I don't think anyone would describe mania as a "black dog". Perhaps an over-exuberant yellow labrador pup (when it's the nice type of mania) or incredibly irritable and feisty terrier (when it's the not-so-nice type of mania).

Secondly, yes, he probably would still give it a nickname, even with medications, since he'd be highly unlikely to be symptom-free. Anthropomorphising mental illness helps to externalise it and I guess stop the patient blaming themselves too much about having it. It's a common problem - people with, say, diabetes are far less likely to feel that they are responsible for their illness than someone diagnosed with depression.

 
samivel
748732.  Sun Oct 03, 2010 5:30 am Reply with quote

Surely you can't anthropomorphise depression as a dog, black or otherwise?

;)

 
Sadurian Mike
748735.  Sun Oct 03, 2010 5:40 am Reply with quote

We* used to have a maxim concerning whether a man was mentally ill, "Is he Mad or Bad?" Simplistic as it sounds, it is a fundamental way to distinguish between whether the inmate commited the crime thanks to genuine insanity, or just because he chose to break society's rules for his own ends.

Of course, it takes a psychiatrist or two to make the diagnosis.


*I was a Prison Health Care Officer and dealt extensively with all manner of mental illness and other abberations, including personality disorders and slight learning difficulties (more severe ones rarely made it to the courts).

 
Celebaelin
748742.  Sun Oct 03, 2010 5:56 am Reply with quote

samivel wrote:
Surely you can't anthropomorphise depression as a dog, black or otherwise?

;)

I'd always assumed that Churchill used this term because it was in common parlance but it seems not. Neither is the Led Zep track Black Dog anything to do with depression. Here's Wiki

Quote:
The song's title is a reference to a nameless black Labrador retriever that wandered around the Headley Grange studios during recording.[4][5] The dog has nothing to do with the song lyrics, which are about desperate desire for a woman's love and the happiness resulting thereby. Regarding the lyrics to the song, Plant later said, "Not all my stuff is meant to be scrutinized. Things like 'Black Dog' are blatant, let's-do-it-in-the-bath type things, but they make their point just the same."[6] Plant's vocals were recorded in two takes.[7]

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_Dog_(song)

 
sjb
761520.  Sun Nov 21, 2010 6:25 am Reply with quote

One of the most interesting cases of the insanity defense that I've come across is that of Charles J. Guiteau, the assassin of President James A. Garfield. His defense of insanity was bizarre, to say the least (though likely true), but it failed. He was hanged for his crime. There is an excellent book on the matter entitled The Trial of the Assassin Guiteau, though you can read more here.

To me, the most coherent point he made in his defense was that "The doctors killed Garfield, I just shot him." Physicians were less than hygienically diligent with Garfield's wounds, often inserting unclean fingers to "search" for the bullet that had hit his spine. (In the process, one physician even punctured Garfield's liver.) Garfield had waves of infections because of this and likely would have survived had he just been left to heal.

Sadly, Garfield died 11 weeks after he was initially shot in Washington. By that point he had been moved north to the Jersey Shore to escape the stifling summer heat in Washington. So, if you ever play six degrees of separation between President Garfield and Snooki . . . you have been prepared!

 
suze
761559.  Sun Nov 21, 2010 8:54 am Reply with quote

sjbodell wrote:
To me, the most coherent point he made in his defense was that "The doctors killed Garfield, I just shot him."


As you note, he may have had a point here. Had President Garfield had better doctors - or indeed, had he not had any doctors at all - he'd probably have lived. (The bullets which hit him didn't threaten any of the vital organs, so they could just have been left where they were.)

But this was the problem - the doctors didn't know exactly where the bullets were, and the methods which they used to try and find out left a lot to be desired.

An offer from Thomas Edison for the President to be examined with Edison's newfangled X-ray machine was turned down, but it would have shown that there wasn't too much to worry about. Conversely, the medical team did accept an offer from Alexander Graham Bell who came down from Canada and investigated the President with the world's first metal detector - but failed to consider that the President was in a metal bed, and so the machine gave misleading results.

In the modern world, rational legal process would not necessarily enter into things if you stood before a US court accused of the murder of the President. But were the charge the murder of anyone else, I'd be fairly confident that a person accused of Mr Guiteau's crime would be able to bargain it down to attempted murder - which is not a capital offence.

 

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