Let’s continue our survey of the top 10 things you’d be crazy not to know about the mental problem.
6 It’s OK to laugh!
While lunacy is ultimately a climate change issue, it does differ from global warming in one big way: you’re allowed to laugh about it, says CN’s Professor Stephan Lewandowsky [pictured].
“Every culture known to historians has enjoyed a chuckle at the expense of the less-hinged,” according to Professor Ian Hickie of Australia’s Brain and Mind Institute [BMI]. “This seems to be hardwired; we couldn’t outgrow it if we wanted to, which of course we don’t.”
And nobody laughs harder than nutjobs themselves, who are the first to dissolve into giggles at a good joke—often anticipating the punchline by one or two sentences.
“We always appreciate comedy, provided it makes sense without being hurtful, yet contains a broader point about the foibles of contemporary society,” explained a drooling maniac who agreed to rant at us in Sydney’s Northside Clinic. “Then again, another equally valid comic tradition revolves around reframing—in an exaggerated or surprising way—some moral intuition of the time and culture in which the routine is performed.”
And if you can’t laugh at yourself, what’s the point of going on?
“You might as well put your affairs in order, hop into a warm bath to stimulate peripheral blood flow and open your wrists with a razor blade (remembering to cut along the length of the arm, not crosswise—a classic beginner’s mistake),” to quote a patient information booklet distributed by the New South Wales Department of Health.
7 Immigrants are at risk.
We traveled to Sydney’s Southwest, where one cluster of suburbs is so rife with cray-cray that it’s nicknamed the Punchbowl district. It’s also an area of high immigration—and that’s no coincidence, say professional ethnographers.
In one hospital, we saw women with the erotomanic persecutory delusion that they’ll be ravished by strangers unless they conceal every inch of their bodies from view. On the emergency ward a man was angrily arguing with staff. From what I could make out with my limited Arabic, he seemed to be obsessed with the compass direction in which his bed was facing.
Administrators had set aside a room for the use of 20 or so patients laboring under the shared conviction, or folie à plusieurs, that they had to ululate and perform a downwards-dog manoeuvre five times a day. I asked one man what he thought would happen if he failed to carry out this ritual. He muttered something about his “soul” going to “hell,” though he couldn’t say where either of these was located.
The local religious centre does what it can. One enterprising imam runs a Friday activity club where hundreds of people with similar thought disorders find support from others going through the same thing. But he says he just doesn’t have the resources or training to give everyone in the area the help they need.
And yet some migrant populations in Australia not only seem to be immune to the kind of meshugaas that plagues Punchbowl, they even outperform the continent’s Anglo-Saxon indigenes on measures of psychic soundness, screw tightness and marble possession.
It’s a head-scratcher. In terms of country of origin, says Professor Lewandowsky, the big epicentres of mental disturbance are as diverse and seemingly random as Indonesia, Lebanon, southern (but not northern) Thailand, Pakistan (but not India), Muslim Bosno-Albania (but not Catholic Serbo-Croatia), the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, the Islamic Republic of Iran and the Islamic Republic of Iraq.
“Astute readers may notice,” continues Lewandowsky, “that these ‘hot spots’ have one and only one factor in common: they’re all war-ravaged nations with a long history of persecution by Israel, going all the way back to the Crusades, and to a lesser extent by the West.”
This observation has led ineluctably to the favorite hypothesis of alienists everywhere: that most people who lose their senses do so as a result of Judeoamerican Islamophobia.
8 The stigma can be worse than the disease.
Even in our enlightened and tolerant times, going completely out of your tree remains a social faux pas.
In a famous indictment of just how bad anti-mad hate can, sadly, get, Stephen Fry once said it was easier to come out as flamingly homophiliac than stark-raving doolally. As a survivor of both conditions, the beloved actor [pictured] is certainly qualified to know.
Once labeled a nutcase, you risk being treated as a second-class citizen for life.
Climate scientist Richard Betts knows this better than most. Betts was once identified in a scientific article—wrongly, it turns out—as suffering from conspiracist ideation.
“I got a correction, but the damage was done,” he told CN. “The paper was already out there, in huge circulation, mainly among non-scientists who didn’t have the skeptical training to question anything they read.”
Betts didn’t seek compensation, settling for symbolic damages of a cup of coffee with the lead author of the article.
Being certified means being committed, Lewandowsky says.
The discrimination he’s faced ever since hasn’t been overt, he explains. “I was never thrown in a padded cell or anything like that.
“It’s more like a bigotry of low expectations. My career seems to be mired in the special-kid field of ‘climate modeling,'” says Betts, “which is a kind of sheltered workshop for the scientifically-challenged, complete with round sheets of paper and no pressure to discover anything. Ever.
“Don’t get me wrong. It’s a good, honest day’s work, but so is printing licence plates. I should have been given a more challenging assignment by now. I like to think I’m a reasonably smart fellow, not some tinfoil-hat-wearing, mouth-breathing div.”
Nobody really knows where these prejudices come from, but Professor Lewandowsky blames the lack of positive portrayals of wackjobs in popular culture.
The news isn’t all bad for proponents of mad equality, however.
“On the plus side, mental cases have been allowed to get married for centuries—a basic human right for which sodomites are still fighting to this day in most countries,” he points out paradoxically.
“By contrast, deranged marriage has been an American institution since… well, forever—from real-life matrimonial train wrecks (think Bobby and Whitney) to totally make-believe unions like George and Martha in Virginia Woolf?, Tom and Nicole, et cetera.”
To foreigners, deranged marriage may seem a backwards, even barbaric custom, admits Lewandowsky.
“Nonetheless,” he says, “American psychos have always enjoyed a God-given right to commit themselves—whether to normals or to fellow inmates—’til death do them part, for better or worse and without apology.”
He also points optimistically to the affirmative-action job schemes in which employers agree to pick the candidate who’s off his or her trolley ahead of an equally qualified, on-trolley applicant. Compliant organizations are entitled, by law, to display the globally-recognized sign: ‘You don’t have to be crazy to work here… but it helps.’
“If you see that sticker in a cubicle,” he explains, “you’re in a workplace that upholds the principles of reverse stigmatization.”
But achieving the coveted certification is no mean feat, Lewandowsky adds.
“Many are certifiable but few are certified. It takes hard work and meticulous adherence. Getting certified means being committed.”
Such initiatives are all well and good, but aren’t they just gestures? How high can an openly geschmoilt man or woman really rise—I wonder—in today’s society?
“You might be surprised. In my opinion, human beings aren’t nearly as prejudiced as everybody blindly assumes,” replies Lewandowsky.
“Remember, we said we’d never elect a black man to the White House, didn’t we? And that’s still true, technically, but we’re halfway there; it’s only a matter of time.
“Think of that historic election day, just seven years ago, when every man, woman and child [in the US] joined hands and said ‘Yes’ to the idea of a mulatto Commander in Chief,” he continues, choking up. “Can words overstate what that vote—that symbol of hope; that token of our faith in each other—did for half-castes everywhere?
“No. And that’s the power of a token like Obama, isn’t it? Suddenly anything seems possible. Within reason, obviously; let’s not go cuckoo.
“But if Americans of melanin can have their day in the sunlight of equality, should the meshuganeh-American community not dream the same dream? I put it to you that they should. In fact, a recent Pew survey found that as long as we approved of his policies, most of us would have no problem with a lunatic in the Oval Office.
“Imagine that. Just think what that would mean, not just for loco Americans but nutburgers the world over.”
9 Suicide kills.
Robin Williams was the life of the party and the toast of Hollywood. He gave us goosebumps in Dead Poets’ Society, made us laugh on the ABC’s Science Show and made us cry in Dead Poets’ Society. Little did anyone suspect that the man of a thousand faces was wearing a thousand faces in public and another thousand faces at home, far from the glare of the camera.
Yet in private, the wealthy and successful Williams was actually nutballs—a condition he’d struggled with since his mid-twenties, and to which he would ultimately lose his battle on 11 August, 2014, when he tragically offed himself.
Not according to the statistics. Far from it. For people under 20 in most Western nations, punching their own ticket is now the most popular non-climatic cause of death. More than 24,500 took this option in Australia alone last year. And sure enough, in case after tragic case, an autopsy shows that the culprit wasn’t all there at the time (mentally speaking).
In the complex, fascinating and ever-evolving epidemiology of self-slaughter, the only rule is that there are no rules.
As Professor Lewandowsky likes to tell his Psych undergrads at Bristol University, “There’s no one ‘right’ way to take your own life.”
While teenagers are most likely to do it by teen suicide, adults tend to top themselves using other methods, he explains.
Historically, women and eunuchs—being by nature averse to violence—prefer to murder themselves non-violently. But the gender divide seems to be narrowing, with poisoning increasingly seen as a valid option by young males too.
So where does the idea of chasing a bottle of painkillers down with a stiff drink get this newfound unisex appeal? Lewandowsky isn’t certain, but he points to the decline of the scouting movement in recent decades—a trend which has left crucial knotsmanship skills in short supply. As a result, he fears the manly tradition of hanging is becoming a lost art.
Gender isn’t the only determinant of how we do away with ourselves; there’s also the culture factor. Since fleeing to the UK, Lewandowsky himself has been volunteering at his local Suicide-Bombing Prevention Hotline, a suicide safety initiative that aims to teach Britain’s notoriously-explosive Asian youth about the alternatives to strapping on a vest.
“We obviously respect the right of Asian minors to choose end-of-life. So rather than try to talk them out of it, which would border on racism,” he hastens to explain, “we simply steer the phone call towards the wide range of methods they may not have considered.
“For example, could they see themselves jumping in front of a train? Or does someone at their mosque have a gun and a single round of ammunition they’re not using at the moment?
“The safe-suicide movement is all about casualty minimization,” says Lewandowsky with a flash of pride, “as I think our motto conveys nicely: Nobody Else Needs to Get Hurt.”
Believe in Jesus? Ask your minister, priest or youth group leader about their policy on giving suicides a Christian burial. Many of the more progressive churches are happy to do it these days—often for a small extra fee—so it pays to shop around. Sure, nobody likes to think about such eventualities, but if and when the day comes your next of kin will thank you for planning ahead!
10 It may be a life sentence, but it doesn’t have to be a custodial sentence.
As recently as the late 1950s, every parent’s worst nightmare was to learn their child was insane in the membrane (the worst place to be insane, medically).
“Once insanity reached the membrane,” recalls Prof. Lewandowsky, “nothing could be done for a patient. Society washed its hands of these unfortunate people.”
For hundreds of years we made use of the principle that out of sight equals out of mind, consigning the incurably batshit to sanitaria, sanatoria and asyla for the terms of their natural lives. And it’s no reflection on the compassion and professionalism of the doctors and nurses at our nation’s nut farms to say that these places were hell on earth.
Then the psychopharmaceutical revolution came along and changed everything. Early antipsychotics like lithium and first-generation tricyclic antidepressants seem primitive now, but at the time they meant empowerment and rehabilitation for millions of madpersons who would otherwise have languished in looney bins. For these men, women and children a life of equality and dignity is now as simple as remembering to take their “monkey tablets.”
Take ‘Stevo‘ [pictured]. He’s a card-carrying member of Generation Haloperidol: the army of medically-sanctioned drug addicts who now aspire, for the first time, to bigger and better things than taking up precious padded-cell space or de-beautifying our urban environment with their St-Vitus-like writhing.
To meet this middle-aged, third-rate academic you’d never guess he was so damaged, let alone what exactly his damage was. Only the subtlest signs seep out to hint at his inner demoniasis: some inappropriate gesticulations every so often, illogical speech, acalculia, questionable reasoning and a kind of dyskinetic, Elaine-from-Seinfeld-worthy chorea. Oh, and the paranoia. The constant paranoia.
Blink and you’d miss it.
But there’s no shame in being mad as a cut snake, says Stevo, who’s too ashamed to give his real name.
“Not these days. A generation ago I would have been relegated to one of our crowded and underfunded madhouses. Now, with the latest advances in anti-insanity pills, I get up and go to work every day, confident in the knowledge I probably won’t wig out.
“And in my line of work, confidence is everything.” ■