Who’s Crazy Here, Anyway?
In this study conducted by D.L. Rosenhan, the following question is raised: are mental health professionals really able to tell who is mentally healthy and who is mentally ill? And what are the consequences of mistakes? To answer these questions, Rosenhan himself and eight other “pseudopatients” presented themselves at different psychological hospitals acting normally other than pretending to be hearing voices saying the same three words; all were admitted. The pseudopatients’ goal once they were admitted was to convince the staff that they were mentally healthy. The hospital staffs failed to detect the patients but interestingly enough, other patients knew pretty easily. While there was a severe lack of personal contact between staff and patients, there was no such lack of medications (the pseudopatients and many of the real patients flushed their pills down the toilet). One of the pseudopatients even noted that a nurse unbuttoned her uniform to adjust her bra in front of a dayroom of male patients; she wasn’t intending to be provocative, but simply did not view the patients as “real people”(Hock 2009).
Rosenhan’s study is critical to the world of psychology because it yielded two major results: 1) it appeared that the sane could not be distinguished from the “insane” and 2) it demonstrated the danger and damage diagnostic labels can cause. Rosenhan’s work caused extra care in diagnostic procedures to be taken and increased awareness of the harmful effects of labeling patients as well as a decrease in hospital populations, an increase in antipsychotic medications, and an increase in mental health facilities that focus on specific problems and tend to avoid labels(Hock 2009). In the study “Listen to My Madness,” Helen Lester and Jonathan Q. Tritter suggested that “mental health users become empowered to act as citizens rather than patients” and that “the social model of disability may offer an increasingly useful framework for understanding and making sense of their experiences” (2005). Studies building off of Rosenhan’s article pointed out that traditionally mental health professionals have assumed that patients were telling the truth about their symptoms but modern professionals are more likely to double check that patients aren’t faking their symptoms; so that criminals, for example, wouldn’t use psychological symptoms as a “get-out-of-jail-free card.” From an ethical standpoint, it made it apparent that, even to the medical professionals taking care of them, people with a “mentally ill” label attached to their name can be viewed as less than human (Hock 2009).
I found it very interesting that the real patients in Rosenhan’s study quickly perceived that the pseudopatients were faking their symptoms when the doctors didn’t. At first when I read how the patients were treated, I was disgusted but then I realized that it has become a common way to react to someone who is different than you are. That being said, it...