does the line go between sanity, insanity and eccentricity? Is our
concept of 'normal' constant, or does it fluctuate? Is it possible to
draw up a list of characteristics that then label a person mentally
deranged or a psychopath?
his book The Psychopath Test, Ronson begins by studying Robert
Hare's check list for psychopaths. "Superficial charm,
Pathological lying, Lack of empathy. . . '
he studies the twenty characteristics, he begins to fear that he is
surrounded by psychopaths even though, statistically, they account
for only 1% of the population (and yet they account for 3% of all
managerial and power positions). His research takes him from the UK
to USA to Sweden; from mental institutions, to gaols for the
criminally insane to new-age healing centres. He interviews diagnosed
psychopaths and he talks to psychiatrists - in the end he decides
that diagnosing a person on the basis of a check list can be
extremely dangerous. The list negates the person, and the person may
simply be eccentric.
touches on the terrifying over-diagnosing of children with ADD,
autism and childhood bipolar disorder, and how the pharmaceutical
companies are pushing the trend. The word 'normal' has been erased
and psychiatrists seek to label (and then medicate) the naughty,
tired, eccentric, innovative child. Ronson admits that there are
children with mental problems, but they are in the minority.
book is, as Ronson suggests, 'a journey through the madness
industry'. It is well written; there is humour and insight; and for a
non-fiction book it is difficult to put down. Ronson presents his
findings, and lets the reader make up his/her mind. I personally
found it frightening from the perspective that there are obviously so
many psychopaths in high places (and this could be an explanation for
the sorry state of the world), but I also found it disconcerting that
although psychiatrists are hell bent on diagnosing they do not always
get it right.
diagnosis of mental illness can be bad enough, but a wrong diagnosis
can be life destroying.