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The Mad Business of Sanity

I recently stumbled on Jon Ronson’s TED talk where he spoke about his book The Psychopath Test. I spent Tuesday and Wednesday reading it and now I think it is my favourite book of this year.

It raises very interesting and equally important questions about the validity of psychiatry and the slippery slope of mental disorder diagnosis.

The author shares experiences ranging from psychopath spotting adventures using Robert Hare’s infamous checklist, his run-in with the Church of Scientology’s war against psychiatry and self-diagnosis using the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

I could not think of anything else to do after reading the book and so like the author, I got a copy of the DSM and proceeded to perform a self-diagnosis needless to say friends and family were not left out.


  • I am positive that every Nigerian mother has Disruptive Mood Dysregulation Disorder, and so do I. It involves “severe recurrent temper outbursts manifested verbally and/or behaviourally that are grossly out of proportion in intensity or duration to the situation or provocation”.
  • I might also have Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorders which I understand to be pretty much PMS.
  • Specific Phobia which is “marked fear or anxiety about a specific object or situation” how on earth is this even a thing?
  • Social Anxiety Disorder which entails “marked fear or anxiety about one or more social situations in which the individual is exposed to possible scrutiny, social situations are avoided or endured with intense fear and anxiety.”
  • Generalised Anxiety Disorder - "excessive anxiety and worry occurring for more than six months about a number of events such as work and school performance, difficulty controlling worry ..." well I suppose every law student ought to see a shrink?
  • Some honourable mentions include: Illness Anxiety Disorder, Binge Eating Disorder, Hoarding Disorder and Insomnia Disorder.

...and then I got bored. I had not even treated Sexual Dysfunctions, Gender Dysphoria, Disruptive Impulse Control Disorders, and a significant portion of the DSM yet there I was, apparently afflicted with nine mental disorders.

It is not only psychiatrists who are guilty, I recognise that there is a certain comfort in being able to name ones quirks. It is why we often try to accord scientific meaning to behaviour that we do not understand.

My mother for instance worries about me, she says it all the time - it bothers her that I like to spend most of my time in my room and away from everyone. Now, it may very well be that I suffer from a mental disorder that causes me to avoid human contact, or it could simply be that I read a lot, and I like to enjoy my books and music undisturbed - Occam's razor suggests the latter. or I’m just a hopeless recluse.


I do not share the Church of Scientology’s death to psychiatry stance and I do not write this to minimise the severity of mental disorders. I believe in the importance of psychiatry in our world today, however, while it has helped us detect and treat mental illnesses which were previously dismissed or regarded as spiritual afflictions, the inexactitude of the science raises significant concerns about our eagerness to pronounce others insane.


I recently stumbled on a Victorian era pamphlet which listed some grounds upon which people were committed to mental facilities, and it included ridiculous reasons such as novel reading, overactive mind, bad habits and political excitement etc. thank God I was born in the 1990s.  I think there might be a chance that we might look at the DSM with the same fascination in a few decades.

Are you pondering what I am pondering?

At the end of the day who is sane anyway? human nature, you would agree with me is a bit mad after all.

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