the spectre of mental illness has always haunted human history

Kings that went mad and became megalomaniacs (some even going so far as to declare themselves to be God, and then demanding to be worshipped). Religious zealots, or fanatics, who did not (or would not) govern their religious fervor with reason.  Deranged sociopaths that murder and traffic in mayhem.  Delusional utopian Marxists who murdered tens of millions of human beings in the 20th century (here many would object, and label these bloodthirsty tyrants as evil, not insane).  Power hungry, shallow, yet narcissistic community organizers.  Enough examples.

There is a very relevant question lurking here:  What constitutes true mental illness, and what is just pure old-fashioned evil?  The question is not an idle one, nor intended to be an exercise in philosophical speculation.  There are important real world implications here.

If one is truly suffering from serious mental illness, then he or she is not (fully) responsible for his/her actions, but still would need to be confined in a controlled setting if they are violent and dangerous to others and/or to themselves.  If they are mentally competent, not seriously mentally ill, these violent, destructive individuals will be dealt with in the existing criminal justice system (that may need serious reform or restructuring).

Resources, nowadays, often are available to help diagnose and treat such baneful psychoses.  But, psychiatry – it needs to be said – does not have all the answers, nor is it likely ever to possess all the “answers”.  Drugging and sedating individuals in an effort to control their behavior, except in extremely violent cases, is a risky and dangerous path to embark upon, or to continue along.

But, how does one know that he or she is mentally ill, or becoming so?  How can a person recognize the warning signs in themselves?  How can others, close to such a person, recognize the red flags of approaching danger?  Anyone who listens to the news regularly hears of multiple murders, suicides, and not infrequently of multiple murder-suicides where one person kills others (usually family members or co-workers), and then kills himself.  The news reports sometimes indicate that there were existing problems that were known to others, but in other cases it is noted that there were no indications of existing stresses or mental illness that would lead to outbreaks of such violence and destruction.

Perhaps, there is an unrecognized collective psychosis in today’s society that too many individuals are suffering from, albeit they are unaware of its presence and symptoms.

Just food for thought.  We don’t claim to have the answers either.  But, these questions ought to be given consideration.