Medical Musings, Health Hypotheses & Therapeutic Thoughts
Five people in this group have had a diagnosed mental illness and five people in this group have not. Are you able to guess who is who?
The picture is of a documentary I watched last night. The documentary follows ten volunteers, half have a psychiatric disorder, and the other half do not. Over five days the group are put through a series of challenges under the observation of a panel of mental health clinicians. Can the clinicians correctly identify and diagnose the individuals within the group? Can you?
The documentary explores the character traits of mental illness and highlights how just like all of human emotional experience, mental illness is on a spectrum. Additionally, the documentary shows just how subjective our judgments, and mental illness diagnosis, can be; participants with a disorder can lead a "normal" life, undetected by specialists, and those without a disorder can display "abnormal" behaviours.
The idea behind this documentary comes from a psychological experiment conducted in the 1970s by psychologist David Rosenhan. The Rosenhan experiment asked some "pseudopatients" (healthy volunteers) to report that they heard voices to admissions clinics. All were admitted into a psychiatric clinic and given a diagnosis of a psychiatric disorder. Despite telling hospital staff that they felt fine and no longer experienced auditory hallucinations, the pseudopatients were only released upon admitting that they had a mental illness and by agreeing to take antipsychotic medication. The average length of stay was 19 days (!)
Although there are plenty of scientific flaws in the documentary and the psychological experiment, they are both worthy social studies for showing the public, and reminding mental health professionals, how subjective our judgements on mental disorder can be.
Keen to hear your thoughts...
Click here to watch Part 1 of the documentary.
Click here to watch Part 2 of the documentary
Click here to read David Rosenhan's paper published in Science titled "Being sane in insane places".
PS. To be fair to the expert panel, it wasn't a fair game! It would usually be completely inappropriate to diagnose based on observation alone. In a clinical setting we would normally obtain information from multiple sources including; observation, client interview, questionnaires, information from referring professional, information from family & friends.