Social History

The writings of the mad can be read not just as symptoms of diseases or syndromes, but as coherent communications in their own right. Psychiatric doctors have commonly denied intelligibility to madness:…they often portrayed insanity as irrational, as nonsense – what the mad said was no better than meaningless babble.

This has led … to an extraordinary deafness towards the communications of the disturbed, and in particular a discounting of their reactions to, and complaints against, the psychiatric treatment meted out to them. The protests of the mad have been interpreted as symptoms of their madness.

…is the bottom line simply that we call people mentally ‘confused’ because we find them confusing, ‘disturbed’ essentially because we find them disturbing – itself a highly disturbing possibility. the mad are ‘strange’. but does that mean anything more than to say that they are strange to us? And then what about the fact that we are strange to them?

It is possible to be odd, to be strange, in ways that still make sense.

The seventeenth-century mad playwrite nathaniel Lee, protesting against his consignment to Bethlem, made the same point more graphically: “They called me mad, and I called them mad, and damn them, they outvoted me!”



Only by listening can we understand the thoughts of others. Only by understanding those thoughts can we see the logic of the thinking. Only by disputing the logic by persuasive evidence can we change the thinking. Only by changing the thinking can we change the behavior. Only when the behavior becomes acceptable, can people with problems in living be reinforced in positive ways.