Monday 15 March 2010

I’m as mad as hell

If you live in London I’m sure it will come as no surprise to you that it’s impossible to avoid mad people, especially on the tube. I’ve had a few encounters, the last with a guy obsessing over my blonde hair, reaching out to touch it, not a comfortable experience, I assure you.

Rod Liddle, writing in the Spectator, describes an encounter he had recently on a train with a ‘loony’ (Rod never walks on verbal tiptoes!), a guy who was barking mad – literally! Every time the train drew into a station he barked, loudly. Only when the train pulled away again did he return to quiet reflection, dipping back into his copy of the Daily Mirror. Yes, of course, it would simply have to be the Daily Mirror!

I suppose this sort of encounter, Rod’s encounter, is mildly amusing, though we have moved on from the days of Bedlam, when people used to drop in on the mad for a spot of light entertainment. But dear Rod goes on to make a serious point. Old mental hospitals, the Victorian Bedlams, have all been closed. Now people formerly held in these places are being ‘cared for in the community’, which seems to mean being allowed to wonder about the place with no discernable sense of purpose. It may not be so bad if they simply bark…or even just have a fascination with blonde hair.

But it does not stop there, does it? To use Rod’s words the public has “every right to fear homicidal nutters.” (I’m adding ‘nutter’, a good old-fashioned English pejorative, in defiance of my spell-checker. How marvelous to see that political correctness has advanced even into the virtual lexicon!) There have been cases of people being killed by paranoid schizophrenics, allegedly obeying voices in their heads. Liddle’s Spectator column was written as a reflection on Why Did You Kill My Dad?, a BBC2 documentary in which film-maker Julian Hendy drew a link between mental illness and homicide, made all the more compelling for him by the tragic death by stabbing of his father three years ago.

Unfortunately I did not see this documentary- debated afterwards on Newsnight – but Liddle says the conclusion was that there is a greater threat to the general public than health care professionals are prepared to allow. Apparently the real numbers of people killed by those with mental health problems is roughly double what the official statistics suggest – somewhere in the region of two every week.

Official blindness here is partly governed by forms of political correctness, depending on the insistence that the mentally-ill should not be stigmatised. Yes, there may be some merit in such a view, but is this abstract principle, I have to ask, to be upheld even when lives are at risk? I find it wholly depressing to listen to yet another apology from professionals lamenting ‘mistakes’ that led to a preventable tragedy.

Political correctness is indeed at fault, as is the kind of bogus thinking that has governed so much practical psychiatry on the nature of mental health. Now I’m going to let Rod rip;

Allied to this are the implications from the mental health charities that it is therefore quite wrong, and perhaps should be illegal, for us to use pejorative terms as loony, nutter, psycho, madman; that the mentally ill, uh, community should not be regarded with suspicion at all. And a party line develops, much as it has done with those other anti-isms launched with the best of intentions (anti-racism, anti-sexism, anti-bullying and so on), which begins to obscure the truth, and then later manipulates the data and vilifies anyone who might disagree with it.

The ‘rehabilitation’ of the mentally ill, in other words, has been taken to an absurdist and potentially dangerous extreme, a point made Professor Peter Morrall in Madness and Murder. There are no easy solutions here and, like Liddle, I’m certainly not advocating that mad people should be victimised or discriminated against. There simply needs to be a lot more vigilance, an understanding not clouded by official lies and dissimulation, the sort of thing, to use a word, which drives me mad. :-))


  1. Tell you were the majority of the nutters hang out; Russel Square. I don't know what it is, they just seem to converge around there.

  2. There is a pretty crazy big issue seller in Birmingham at the moment. He used to be a bit weird, and has a kind of 'barking' voice when he shouts "big issue", but in the last few weeks he's properly gone. Now, every 30 seconds, goes into a fit of rage, swinging his arms and hitting the magazine off the wall.

    I feel kind of bad for him. Next time I am going to ask if he's okay I think.

    ... then maybe you can write about how I was killed by a Big Issue seller :D

  3. Oh No. I hang out around Russell Square!

  4. The Crazies are everywhere. :-))