The crime was the disease

Mike Jay

  • Mad-Doctors in the Dock: Defending the Diagnosis, 1760-1913 by Joel Peter Eigen
    Johns Hopkins, 206 pp, £29.50, September 2016, ISBN 978 1 4214 2048 6

A diagnosis of mental illness has many meanings, not all of them clearly stated. It confines itself to the language of the clinic but its reach extends far beyond it. It confers many, often hard-won, legal rights to employment, treatment, educational support and state benefits; equally it can remove your children from you, oblige you to undergo treatment against your will or take away your liberty. Whether psychiatrists acknowledge or even want these powers, they come with the territory. It’s ironic, to say the least, that conditions whose biomedical basis is so uncertain should generate diagnoses that are so consequential.

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