By Charlie Doherty

In this article I am going to show examples of how are perceptions of illnesses and especially metal illnesses are sometimes incorrect. What is sanity? What does it mean to be sane or insane? How is it that we define the insane from the sane in our society? What are the impacts of the most common misconceptions of sanity?


In America 1973 psychologist David Rosenhan published a journal calledOn being sane in insane places”.


In this journal Rosenhan created a series of tests trying to see, could physiatrist in the United States tell the difference between madness and sanity. He got together 8 volunteers which included him that never had a history of physiological problems.

He dived up these volunteer and sent them to psychiatric hospitals around America. He gave them a time to show up at each of the designated hospitals. He instructed them to tell each psychiatrist that “there is a voice in my head saying the words thud”. Rosenhan explained to them that this was all they had to say, and after this they should act completely normal. After this they were all diagnosed as being insane and put into psychiatric units. Rosenhan had previously told friends and family members he expected to have been there for only a couple of days. He ended up being kept there for two months. The behaviour of all these 8 patients remained normal, but the hospital would not let them leave. 7 of these volunteers were told they had schizophrenia and one bipolar disorder. The volunteers done everything in their power to try and prove to the physiatrist that they were in fact of a sane mind. But it soon dawned on each of them that they could do nothing but agree they had these disorders, they would have to give the illusion of getting better. Rosenhan said” the only way out of the hospital was to admit he was insane and that he was getting better. 


The psychiatric community was outraged. An offended hospital told Rosenhan that he should send more volunteers and that on this occasion they would find the people that were miss leading them. He agreed that he would send more volunteers. Months later the offended hospital came out saying that they have 41 imposters. Rosenhan then presented proof that he had sent no one.

After this the American psychiatric community began to conduct larger experiment looking at these disorders. Before they had only analyzed the individual person. But now they would get groups of people from all over the country to survey. Hundreds of thousands were randomly interviewed.  Their results were then inputted into a computer. The results concluded that 50% of all Americans suffered from some sort of mental disorder in their lifetimes. The finding of this experiment astonished people. It was dubbed “the Hidden epidemic”.


The findings of the survey showed that people suffering from mental anguish were not alone. A checklist of symptoms was created and it was the first time people could identify what they were experiencing into something that is scientifically proven. But as a consequence of these lists some people had begun using them as a framework for what could be described as being normal. This was completely missing the point of the checklists. Psychiatric hospitals had an influx of people not feeling that they were not what they perceived as being normal. They had an ideal in their mind of what was normal and believed that they did not fit this model.


When advertising metal disorders the media has a responsibility to inform but not scare mugger the public. Describing the symptoms of mental disorders can be as harmful as the mental illness itself. It has to be explained that self-diagnosis can be very harmful. Only the diagnosis worthwhile should always be from a trained medical professional.

If we become a society that uses a checklist in order to measure are existence, we will lose everything that makes the individual person special and unique. We all have to ask ourselves the question. What is sanity?  

"Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results".Albert Einstein (1879 - 1955)