Insanity: Disorders of the Mind

Insanity. Just the word draws images in our head of Norman Bates stabbing people in the shower or of Edward Munch's, "The Scream", but what really is insanity? Insanity is a legal term, used to describe a person when they do not know the difference between right and wrong, or when they do not know the nature of their actions because of a mental defect, or disorder. Used in it's common sense though, the word insanity is used when someone has a mental disorder.

Although there is no worldwide classification system, one system that is loosely accepted, breaks a disorder down to one out of two choices in three categories. The categories break a disorder down into: Disorders that first appear in childhood and those that first appear in adulthood; organic disorders are ones that are caused by different parts of the brain being damaged-something that's physically damaged, but non-organic disorders are ones that are result of a psychological experience; psychotic disorders are ones where a patient loses most or all touch with reality and a neurotic disorder is when a patient is relatively less impaired.

Since childhood disorders can first occur anywhere from infancy through adolescence, these are the disorders that could possibly affect a seventh grader in this room. There are three major relatively common childhood disorders, the first is mental retardation. Mental retardation is the inability to learn normally and to become as socially independent and responsible as ones' peers. People with an IQ of less than 70 are also considered retarded. Another mental disorder is attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. In this disorder people have an inappropriate lack of attention, are very impulsive, hyperactive, and then have difficulty organizing and completing work. The last common childhood disorder are anxiety disorders. In childhood anxiety, the patient has a fear of leaving home or their parents, avoid all strangers, and basically have excessive, un-called for worrying and fearful behavior.

Illustrated well in Munch's, "The Scream", anxiety disorders, from which 2-4% of the population will at one time suffer, play a big part in mental disorders. Anxiety is fearful anticipation of coming danger, when there is nothing to trigger the fear. The main symptom of anxiety is intense mental discomfort, in which the person feels that he/she will not be able to overcome the danger. A chronic disorder, there is no proven theory to the cause of all anxiety, but there is one kind of anxiety to which most people have suffered, where the cause is known. Let's say that you were riding your bike, then the wheel slipped on a rock and you fell down. The next time you ride your bike past the spot where you fell, you might be anxious, having an uncomfortable fear of danger that will happen. Psychiatrists have found that anxiety can be caused when a bad experience happened that involved a previously neutral object, or place. Thus you associate the pain you got from falling down, with the spot where you fell. Anxiety can be a symptom in other disorders, or anxiety can be the disorder. Treatment for anxiety disorders can include- drugs, psychotherapy, behavior modification, and relaxation training.

Another very common disorder is paranoia. Paranoia is a disorder where a person has consistent, fixed, false beliefs, of either persecution or grandeur. The main symptom of paranoia is a great distrust of others, a person may sometimes believe that others are out to kill him/her. This is represented well in Stephen King's short story, "Paranoid, a Chant", from which I wil now read. Like anxiety, paranoia can appear as a symptom in other disorders, but the false beliefs are often accompanied by hallucinations. In the hallucinations people often see historical figures that are associated with their false beliefs, of either persecution or grandeur. Since paranoia often occurs in other disorders, the disorder that only has paranoia as it's symptom, has been dubbed the, Paranoid Delusional Disorder. (Delusions are the fixed, false beliefs.)

Now you know about the disorders themselves, but how can you tell if someone has one? The most basic way to diagnose a disorder is through a psychiatric interview. Part of the interview is when the patient, alone or with family, tells a psychiatrist about their personality, relationships with others, and past and present psychiatric problems. The second half of the interview is when psychologists deliver intelligence and personality tests, neurologists test for damage to the nervous system, and physicians check for physical ailments. All the results are reviewed by the psychiatrist and a mental status report is made.

As was mentioned, psychiatrists play a big role in the field of mental health care, in fact, they play the biggest role aside from that of the patient him/herself. Psychiatry is the branch of medicine that deals with mental health, psychiatrists and psychologists are the people who work in it. The biggest difference between psychiatrists and psychologists, is that psychiatrists must be specially trained so they can administer drugs while psychologists aren't trained to work in the area of physical help. Psychiatrists and psychologists can work in general hospitals, mental health facilities, or in a private practice.

Mental disorders have been around since there has been life on Earth, but treatment has changed radically over time. Until the 1800's, mental disorders were considered supernatural and there was not much help for the mentally ill. Sometimes people mistook the disorders for witch craft or other evil forces. Psychiatrists started treating people in the 1800's , but were known as alienists, and worked in large asylums. There are two kinds of treatment avaliable today are organic and non-organic. Organic treatments are ones focused on the physical aspect of the disorder, psychotropic drugs the first was an antipsychotic drug used on schizophrenia, electroconvulsive treatment where currents are passed through the forehead causing epileptic-like seizures, and the controversial psychosurgery in which parts of the brain are severed. Non-organic treatments focus on the psychological aspects, psychotherapy which includes the stereotypical lying-on-the-couch telling your problems to a psychiatrist not done much-expensive-long, or just the most comman type telling the psychologist your problems, and them giving you advice (without the couch).

Overall I hope I've increased your understanding of what insanity (mental disorders) really are. Remember, just because you're mentally ill, doesn't mean you need to reach for the closest ax.