Is human behavior increasingly getting labeled as a mental disorder?

This is my first post and I am quite excited to talk about the book I read this week. The Psychopath Test by Jon Ronson is a New York Times bestseller that uncovers the hidden world of psychopaths and mental illnesses.

 

Ronson is a Welsh journalist that is most famously known for his investigative works and pieces on conspiracy theories. In The Psychopath Test, Ronson’s random examination of a mystery package opens his eyes to the endless world of psychiatry, psychopaths and infinite mental illnesses. Having always been interest in the human mind, especially the ones that are not “wired properly”, I was delighted to get my hands on this book. The high point of this book is Ronson study of the PCL-R (Psychopathy Checklist Revised), this is a rating scale that assesses your level of psychopathy. You can actually look up the checklist online and test your “psychopathy level” by clicking here. I scored a 5 which is a safe score, but had I scored 30 or higher it would mean I was most likely a psychopath. I personally find the use of a scale of any sort to identify a mental illness very unscientific. I respect that the various researchers that compiled this list did it with a good intention but while reading The Psychopath Test we see how this list is often misused by not only ordinary people but doctors.

Throughout his book, Ronson uses a variety of examples to illustrate his points including a very interesting one of a man called Tony. Tony scammed his way into a mental hospital while trying to get away from prison. While he was effectively convincing in faking a “mental illness”, he was never able to convince the doctors of his sanity. Which made me think, it is a lot easier to convince someone that you are insane than it is to convince someone that you are sane. How do you even convince someone you are sane? On his quest to find out more about Tony, Ronson learns from the doctors that Tony was actually diagnosed as a psychopath.

What makes this book great and different in my opinion is how Ronson turns a gloomy, disturbing subject into something light and humorous. The fact that he is a British journalist made this novel not only an enjoyable read but also academically relevant because he would make some analysis of the media industry that were very insightful. One of his points that resonated with me was how the media is always seeking madness, but it has got to be the right kind of level of madness. Not enough madness is not interesting, and if there is too much madness then people cannot relate. He interviews a lady that worked in the production of “The Jeremy Kyle Show” and she bluntly tells that the best guest they would have in the show would be the mad ones. They particularly liked the ones on drugs because it made them “mad enough to be enterntaining”. As horrible as it sounds, that is the sad reality. Normalcy does not sell.

Ronson’s conclusion after his journey through madness is that we need to have a balanced approach of mental illness. We cannot go around trying to “spot and diagnose” everyone we see nor classify every single idiocrasy we witness as a mental illness.

I would definitely recommend this book to anyone that is interest in the subject of the human mind and mental illness, like psychopathy. Although, beware that he does not always have positive things to say about psychiatrist but I think his overall tone in the book is relatively balanced.

Aline Siekierski (twitter:@alinesieks)

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