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Is it possible to prove you are not ‘crazy’ in a psychiatric hospital?


Imagine the scenario: you were invited to tour a psychiatric hospital by a friend/an association. You signed your name on the guest list, received the guest badge and stored your personal belongings in a locker. Soon after you entered the hospital, your guest badge was stolen. The guard didn’t believe you were actually a guest, even though you were dressed in non-institutional clothes. He refused to check the guest list for you and didn’t trust a word you said. So what would you do to prove you were ‘sane’?


(photography: David Rodriguez)


Would you keep claiming you are not insane? Play dumb and agree with everything the doctors said? OR act crazy, undergo their course of treatment and gradually pretend to get better? OR tell them they are not making you better – the environment is just making you worse?


The truth is, no matter which option you choose, you won’t be able to get out unless you have friends and family who can stand by you and testify that you are not mentally ill. However, before you get to that stage, the very oppressive, hopeless environment inside the asylum will most likely lead to your becoming more and more emotionally unstable. Eventually, you would start doubting yourself mentally and turn into one of the patients.


The question of what is sane and what insane is illustrated in the ‘Stark Raving Dad’ episode in The Simpsons Season 3. Homer was accidentally admitted to the mental hospital, because he wore a pink shirt while all the others were wearing white. This action was seen as a threat and he was described as a ‘free-thinking anarchist’.

Homer: This isn’t fair! How can you tell who’s sane and who’s insane?

Doctor: Well we have a very simple method.

*Doctor stamps Homer’s hand: ‘INSANE’

Doctor: Whoever has that stamp on his hand is insane.


The writer and philosopher Criss Jami once said, ‘When you are the only sane person, you look like the only insane person’. Insanity and sanity are a matter of perspective; they are relative terms that change throughout history and culture. What was defined as ‘mental’ in the old days may be something that we accept nowadays. One obvious example is homosexuality. It is still very embarrassing to remember that it was less than half a century ago that being gay was defined as a mental illness. It’s commonly known that homosexuality was listed as a ‘sociopathic personality disorder’ from 1952 until 1973. Doctors were paid to treat it; scientists to research its causes and cures. Gay people had to undergo countless therapies, including electric shocks, years on the couch, behaviour modification and surrogate sex. Apart from displaying affection towards those of the same gender, some of the ‘symptoms’ of homosexuality included depression, anxiety and suicide attempts. The declassification of it as a mental illness proved that all those ‘symptoms’ were just the result of society’s judgement and hostility, rather than the sexual orientation itself. To be fair, the anxiety and distress that often accompany a mental disorder are usually the consequence of being misunderstood and labelled as some kind of dangerous creature by the majority.


When everyone around you thinks you are crazy, even if you think differently, it doesn’t really matter, does it? Imagine the whole world’s population is against you; it would be almost impossible to prove to a majority that they are wrong if you don’t have a few strong allies to stand up for you. Even though you may know that you aren’t insane, over time, as people keep telling you that you are crazy and treating you like someone threatening, you are going to start doubting whether you were ever ‘normal’. Maybe everyone else is right: you are ill, and treatment is needed.


This is how labelling ruins people’s life. Those who act a bit outside the norm, or just not like everyone else tend to be called ‘weird’. The burdens they have to carry are so heavy that most of them cannot mentally withstand them and will eventually crash into a mental breakdown, which turns them into real psychotics. We need to talk to people before we judge them. After all, psychotics were just like us.


In fact, most of us could be diagnosed with something, such as OCD (Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder), bipolarity or histrionic personality disorder. I myself am self-centred, stubborn and arrogant; I am not always emotionally stable, have problems taking orders and sometimes I may even think of hurting or killing someone. I am sure everyone experiences that moment at some point in their lives. So, who is normal anyway?


In any case, why fit in, when you were born to stand out?