Feb 28

“Mad to Be Normal”: R.D. Laing, Psychiatrist

David Tennant stars as R.D. Laing (1927-1989) in Robert Mullan‘s new film Mad to be Normal, now on DVD, which places much of its focus on Laing’s work between 1965-70 at Kingsley Hall (London), his residential facility for those diagnosed with schizophrenia.

Laing was both a psychiatrist and an author who, though not to his own liking, became viewed as leader of an “anti-psychiatry” movement. One of his controversial theories was that schizophrenia sprang from environmental dysfunction, often within the family—as in “a hopeless ‘heads-I-win, tails-you-lose’ emotional situation…Finding such a situation intolerable, a boy or girl escapes this unbearable pain through schizophrenia” (New York Times).

Stephen Dalton (Hollywood Reporter) states that Laing “was something like a Scottish Timothy Leary, a Swinging Sixties counterculture icon who attracted a cult following among the young, shared a stage with The Grateful Dead and dropped LSD with Sean Connery….A radical opponent of prison-like asylums and anti-psychotic drugs, the Glasgow-born guru challenged the medical establishment while enjoying a hedonistic rock-star lifestyle, partying with famous fans including The Beatles.”

Interestingly, in the book R.D. Laing: A Life his son Adrian described the fact that “despite his astonishing empathy with the disturbed, Laing failed to address his own family problems…” (publisher’s blurb).

Watch the trailer for Mad to Be Normal:

Diagnosed herself with schizophrenia, Stephanie Allan has written a review for The Psychologist. An excerpt:

The impact of Laing’s work that resonates most heavily today is that madness is an understandable response to ‘unlivable situations’; he would even describe extreme mental states as a ‘voyage of self-discovery’. However, these passionate beliefs aren’t demonstrated in any of the Kingsley Hall characters, and I found their portrayal lacking…

Film critic Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian, is a bit more complimentary, on the other hand: “…Gabriel Byrne and Michael Gambon are excellent as his patients: old men who in a later era might be overlooked as care-in-the-community homeless.”

Untrue elements include the existence of Elisabeth Moss as “Laing’s (composite-fictional) partner Angie,” according to Bradshaw, as well as the following, as detailed by Hollywood Reporter:

The real-life death of Laing’s daughter Susan (Alexandra Finnie) from leukemia is brought forward by a decade, a clumsy chronological contrivance of questionable taste. A prickly meeting between Laing and his starchy battle-axe mother also feels like a jarringly artificial bid to stoke up Freudian psychodrama.

Among the fictionalized regulars at Kingsley Hall are Jim (Byrne), a volatile Anglo-Irish depressive who jealously guards his connection to Laing, and Sidney (Gambon), an elderly lost soul who agrees to take LSD to help resolve the lingering trauma of his parents’ death in a grisly murder-suicide. Strangely, Mullan overlooks some of the community’s most famous real alumni, including Mary Barnes, a schizophrenic who became a celebrated painter. Mad to Be Normal also suggests Kingsley Hall was forced to close in 1970 in response to thuggishly hostile locals and self-serving establishment doctors. The real chain of events was inevitably more complex, and involved two patients jumping from the roof.

Dalton’s conclusion, in part:

Almost three decades after his death, the value of Laing’s contributions to psychiatry remain contentious, particularly as he embraced more esoteric New Age methods in later life, declined into alcoholism and lost his license to practice. Mullan’s take-home message is not wholly uncritical but obviously partisan, concluding with the simplistic claim that Laing’s ideas ‘live on.’

Sep 20

Insanity: Its Real Meaning Is Not What You Think It Is

True or False: Insanity, rather than being the synonym for mental illness that most people seem to think it is, is actually a legal term.

Answer: Kinda True/Kinda False

True, it’s best used as a legal term. It’s not appropriate for use in medical or psychiatric settings. However, many years ago it was acceptable in these realms.

False, because words have a funny way of wheedling their way into common parlance and commanding respect for how people choose to use them versus how they’re “supposed” to be used.

In the definition given below by Merriam-Webster, you’ll find “insanity” to be all three of the following: a mental disorder, a legal status, and a casual way to label something/someone considered “off.”

  1. a deranged state of the mind usually occurring as a specific disorder (as schizophrenia),
  2. such unsoundness of mind or lack of understanding as prevents one from having the mental    capacity required by law to enter into a particular relationship, status, or transaction or as removes one from criminal or civil responsibility,
  3. a: extreme folly or unreasonableness, b: something utterly foolish or unreasonable.

Some Quotes About Insanity

Ray Bradbury: “Insanity is relative. It depends on who has who locked in what cage.”

R.D. Laing: “Insanity – a perfectly rational adjustment to an insane world.”

Nora Ephron: “Insane people are always sure that they are fine. It is only the sane people who are willing to admit that they are crazy.”  

Rita Mae Brown: “The statistics on sanity are that one out of every four people is suffering from a mental illness. Look at your 3 best friends. If they’re ok, then it’s you.”

Christopher Moore: “If you think anyone is sane you just don’t know enough about them.”

Sam Levenson: “Insanity is hereditary; you get it from your children.”

Narcotics Anonymous (1981): “Insanity is doing the same thing, over and over again, but expecting different results.” (This attribution is thanks to Cara Santa Maria, who acknowledges that Albert Einstein, Benjamin Franklin, and Mark Twain are all wrongly but frequently given credit for this quote.)