Madness, Personality, Fear & Anders Breivik,

In Norway, mass murderer Anders Breivik, dismissed by most as insane, is insisting that he has a defence of “national protection”.

The debates raised out there as a result are failing to raise the issues that count for me.
He is clearly “not normal” in at least the sense of having no ability to empathise with other human beings. Most say this is an underlying trait of insanity, and yet it can also be a factor in degrees of autism. His actions and subsequent statements have led many (outside Norway) to demand punishments of the severest nature, but since he would feel honoured by the death penalty, people have suggested a more Mikadoesque prison sentence. (My own favourite is to have him kept in a heavily Asian styled room, entirely walled with unbreakable brown tinted mirrors and being served nothing but curry and looped tapes of the Islamic call to prayer for the rest of his life).
The prosecution however, insist he should be found insane and committed to a high security mental hospital facility. This prompts the question as to whether they have decided his “condition” is curable.

In the UK we have a label, or status, that is used surprisingly often for a wide range of societal misfits: “Personality Disorder”. It is often applied by doctors to those they feel are untreatable, though this generally means, untreatable by any of a crude range of drugs within the psychiatrist’s portfolio. By many measures of insane behaviour this guy pictured right is also definable as “not normal”, possibly having had a personality disorder, possibly insane, they tried locking him up to change his behaviour but he proved pretty much untreatable…

As someone who has spent time “under a section”, albeit both times, short-lived 72 hour versions, I have some strong experience based views on how these labels come to be applied, how much someone’s behaviour is their responsibility, and who is culpable when treatment fails. I have recovered to have a successful career and, via training and work in the field, a depth of understanding of the world of mental health suffering, care and treatment. I have seen top psychiatrist, Bob Johnson manage to get the infamous Charles Bronson, “Britain’s most dangerous” Rampton resident to be calm and lucid. Bob has long held the belief that everyone is curable, including paedophiles, it just takes massive effort and time with some people…

The famous who come out as having had depression or other forms of mental illness do their best to try and remove the stigma. Stephen Fry, Rob Delaney, Alastair Campbell,(left) and more have tried… but despite all their best efforts, we soon see the public putting them into a separate box of “safe celebrity ex-loonies”, which means that we can still stride through our lives dismissing the criminals tainted with the insanity brush as “Monsters”, “pure evil” and other Tabloid tags.

I am not alone in believing this is because we, the people, do not like to think about how closely the darker behaviours of dangerous others, represent the darker parts of our selves. The ease with which people see devils and angels, heroes and villains, rather than flawed human beings who need love in order to be whole, (yet damaged), is still a massive problem for mankind, 400 years from the dawn of a more enlightened age.

Gita Sereny, who has just died, among other great work exploring this notion of the evil men do, wrote two remarkable books on Mary Bell, a child murdering precursor to the infamous Venables and Thompson. She was attacked for attempting to understand who Mary Bell was, what had happened to her, what her demons were. We could all do with a dose of the Sereny approach to awful events committed by people.

We are all people who have mental health problems – and potential mental illnesses.
Think about it:- If 15-25% of the population has a mental illness at any one time and over 40% recover to have no further incidents, and a further 30% have less than five incidents – this is revealing your odds of having such a problem at some point in your life: as higher than fifty-fifty
Are you scared of this?

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