Dave's Progress. Chapter 58: Mad, Bad and Dangerous to Know.

The above title is taken form a quote by some one who was describing Lord Byron, the famous and also infamous English poet, and it points to a rather destructive confusion, one which seems to have been around for a long time; that between what is "mad" and what is simply "bad", behaviour.
This came to the forefront of my mind recently due to watching a few episodes of BBC1's risible afternoon "soap", "Doctors". "Doctors" is a low budget, corny affair, which if it knew better, would forgo any pretensions of serious drama and hold its tongue firmly in its cheek. At times it does appear to do this, and brings about comedic moments that could only be gleaned from that which is, seemingly, unintentionally funny. Problems come about and the cracks begin to show, however, when "Doctors" attempts to tackle issues of any seriousness.
Which brings me on to the storyline which got me thinking about the mad/bad debate. It concerned two characters, a brother and sister, named Ivor and Sissy Juggins (wonderful names, I know) and their kidnapping and false imprisonment of a third character, lovingly known as Dr. Jimmi. Ivor and Sissy had come to know of Dr. Jimmi through his phone-in radio show, which they would often listen to in their suitably spooky, large, old house which they appeared to never leave. It became apparent that the two had been the victims of some form of abuse at the hands of their parents and had thus grown up in to emotionally and intellectually immature people, who, as it turned out, had become, in their own naive way, a danger to others. Anyway, suffice it to say, they kidnapped Jimmi, drugged him and held him captive. Sissy "cared" for him while he was in this state and it soon became apparent that she wanted his child. Ivor, also, made his own kind of advances towards Jimmi. So far, so corny. Indeed, the whole thing came over as a sort of unintentionally comedic rendering of "Misery". However, then came the bombshell. After escaping from Sissy and Ivor, Jimmi was told that they had been assessed and then sectioned under the Mental Healt Act and Jimmi got to say the heroic, seemingly understanding lines, "Mental illness is an affliction. You don't choose to be mentally ill...Instead of demonising them we should give them the help they so obviously need". And here is where my blood began to boil.
For a start, why were Sissy and Ivor regarded as mentally ill at all? To my mind, they had shown no signs of any mental illness I am aware of, of any of the major neuroses or psychoses, of anxiety, depression, mania or psychosis. They were certainly aware of what they were doing and, as such, should have been arrested, not sectioned. Then, of course, it dawned on me, that this was an example of the old confusion between "mad" and simply "bad" behaviour. Ivor and Sissy had done a bad thing and broken the law in doing so, but why should this qualify them for the status of mentally ill? Surely, one would have to be in the deep throes of psychosis to be truly unaware of the consequences of one's actions and therefore, not wholly responsible. Just because some one does something bad does not mean they are mentally ill, and just because one is mentally ill it does not necessarily follow that one will do bad things. The producers and writers of "Doctors" perhaps thought they were doing those with experience of mental ill health a favour by giving Dr. Jimmi those final, apparently sympathetic words. But when the entire programme had been doing what Jimmi said we shouldn't, i.e. demonising the mentally ill by suggesting they were somehow inherently prone to criminality, deviance and violence, I can only say this made me even more annoyed.
Indeed, many still confuse the "mad" with the "bad". I remember, for example, one instance at the Media Action Group for Mental Health where we listened to some one 'phoning in to Radio 5 Live, saying that those who commit paedophilia were "mentally ill". It seems that mental illness is an all too easy scapegoat for what is just bad behaviour. In an age where reason and science are supposed to hold all the answers, this is one instance where I would say that one has to go back to ideas of just plain old evil if one is seeking explanations. While paedophiles may well be psychologically damaged in some way themselves, one thing which paedophilia is not is a mental illness. But is it any wonder, then, that mental ill health often gets confused with criminality, deviance and violence when such representations and points of view exist?
As if in contradiction to all this, I recently watched the exceptional George Clooney film, "Michael Clayton", in which Tom Wilkinson played a high-flying lawyer with a diagnosis of bipolar disorder, and we see him as he begins to have a manic episode. While his behaviour is bizarre, he ironically seems to begin to see "the truth" through the prism of his delusions. The corruption which surrounds him, which in his sane state he acknowledges cynically as being just the way the world works, comes instead to be seen, though his illness, exactly for what it is- a profound moral wrong. I found this both a moving and thought-provoking way of presenting some one with such a diagnosis.
So, as ever, there are encouraging signs to be found out there. Unfortunately for us with diagnoses of mental ill health, they still seem to be few and far between. Until this changes, we may well still be seen as mad, bad and dangerous to know.
That's all for now from your normal, average paranoid and delusional man.


Hope Ambassador said…
David, my blood has boiled over this issue, as well! Sometimes it seems that the media likes to make out that anyone who does something really bad (say violent or going against societal norms) must be mentally ill.

Sane people, without mental illness, can act violently.

I hesitate to watch movies with depictions of mental illness because I often have problems with the portrayals. I will check out the movie you mentioned, though.

Thanks for the interesting read!
David said…
Dear Sonya,
Thank you for your comment. It does indeed make one's blood boil when one sees such representations of mental illness. Unfortunately for us, they seem all too common.
Luckily, at the Media Action Group for Mental Health, at least we get to put our disgruntlement in to a concerted effort to reduce stigma by lodging complaints and rebuttals against the people who produce such bilge. Whether this has any great effect is another matter, but at least it makes me feel better!
Thanks once again.
Yours with Very Best Wishes,
klahanie said…
Hi Davie,
No much more I can add to Sonya's comment and your response.
Once again, my friend, you have brought up some points to ponder.
As you know, I also think it is time that the media gave a more balanced account as to how they portray those who have mental health concerns.
Indeed, the media needs to make it clear that a person can be 'bad' and not automatically assume they are mentally ill.
With respect, Gary.
David said…
Dear Gary,
Thanks for your comment, comrade. Glad that you share my concerns over the mad/bad debate.
See you soon and thamk you for becoming a part of MAGMH.
With very Best Wishes,
dcrelief said…
"In an age where reason and science are supposed to hold all the answers, this is one instance where I would say that one has to go back to ideas of just plain old evil if one is seeking explanations. While paedophiles may well be psychologically damaged in some way themselves, one thing which paedophilia is not is a mental illness."

I agree with your statement. I may not have the knowledge to discuss mental health issues, but this subject I'm familiar with. Paedophilia is a behavior of choice.

Excellent article, David!
Kind regards to you,
David said…
Dear Dixie,
Thanks for your comment. I'm glad we agree.
It is unfortunate, and even more unfortunate that you have personal experience of this, but sometimes people just do bad things, and mental illness should not be used as an excuse for their behaviour. Conversely, of course, there are those who are genuinely ill and should not be held entirely responsible for their actions.
Perhaps it is not always easy to decipher between the "mad" and the "bad", particularly as definitions of mental illness in law would appear to be quite vague. I would reiterate, though, that just because someone appears "abnormal" or "deviant", this does not necessarily make them "mentally ill".
Thanks once again for your kind remarks and support.
Yours, as always, with very Best Wishes,
Anonymous said…
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bazza said…
Hello David. I just discovered your blog randomly and I like it!
I am fed up with blogs about 'me and my madcap family!'
As a side issue I must say that Doctors is a cut above the major soaps in that it has real life story lines and some pretty good acting. At least, it was until the storylines started becoming rediculous!

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