Mentally Ill or Not?
18 October, 2017
“The brain is wider than the sky.” Emily Dickinson. Humans believe that the sky is limitless, and what we see, looking up at the sky, is nothing compared to what we cannot see, because it is beyond of our imagination. If we consider the brain, as the wider phenomenon than the sky, how the brain can be ever measured? Each human brain commands the body in irreplaceable way since more than 80,000 years ago, when the beginning of modern Homo
sapiens existence is marked. In spite of the differences in mental capacity and evolution, occurring over the history, the human brain remains as anatomically well revealed, but yet, psychologically mysterious human organ, especially when referring the common understanding that the human mind is the activity of the human brain.

Connection between the human brain, mind and behavior, has been enlightened in distinctive ways during the centuries, either pointing at influence of spiritual demons, at positioning of the planets, or just blaming a random, unexplained madness, especially when the human behavior was atypical. But what kind of attitude is considered to be odd, and what is falling into frames? How the line is visible between the mental illness and psychological sanity?

“Some psychiatrists have chosen to take the position that there is no such thing as mental illness. In similar argument, one might contend that since orange blends closely into red, there is no such thing as orange.” Source:

“Romeo and Juliet” made a history by committing their lives to each other; story of young, emotional and childish couple is an example of romantic, poetic and unique love story, exceptionally described by William Shakespeare in 16th century. No one can verify if the tragedy is based on real facts, or if it’s just a genius fiction produced by Shakespeare’s brain; but the curiosity takes us to the psychological approach: were not those feelings slightly exaggerated, somehow out of ordinary mode? Perhaps leading to some sort of “love syndrome”, causing the tragedy and then death? And yet, we all dream to be loved the way Romeo and Juliet felt for each other.

Twenty first century brought “the virtual love”, accessible in various social media and chat forums. Couples fall in love, engage themselves in official relationship without any physical encounter, commit their lives to someone else in a different continent… Or fall in sadness because of the web of lies.

Which way is real or acceptable? When we should notice “orange blending into red”? Or should it be noticed at all? So many dilemmas around the human thoughts, moods, personalities, behavior or lifestyle; and each epoch has been distinguished with its own psychological categorization on human atypical behavior; mental health has been contemplated in diversity of ways; and yet, we are still facing the same question as before: mentally ill or not?

Case Presentation

If omitting all previous centuries for a moment, and placing ourselves in 21st century, the real clinical case of American young lady, Susannah Cahalan, 24 years old reporter of the newspaper, NY Post, is an example of “medical confusion”. Experiencing severe symptoms of hallucination, anxiety, mood swing and disorientation, also showing at the same time the physical alterations such as seizers, stomach pain, headaches, numbness in extremities (left hand and left leg), puzzled the doctors, including Susannah’s psychiatrist and neurologist.

Extensive medical tests confirmed Susannah being a completely healthy woman, just partying too much, working too hard, and being also “euphoric” because of her new boyfriend. Patient has been suggested to stay away from birth control pills and from alcohol, causing her emotional discrepancies. At the end, Susannah’s condition left her in a catatonic stage, disabling her to reason, or to make a single physical move; with no evidence to prove otherwise, Susannah’s doctors concluded that the patient was suffering from Schizophrenia.

No one knows how Susannah Cahalan would have end up, but luckily, Dr. Najjar conducted a very simple neurological test, asking her to draw the clock with numbers. While drawing, Susannah put all the numbers on one side, indicating that the issue was neurological. Susannah has been diagnosed with recently discovered disease, so called Anti-NMDA Receptor Encephalitis, causing antibodies to attack the brain which would then swell. Condition is curable with Steroids and Plasma, along with other treatment. Event took place in 2009.

“A feeling described as being removed from your body and able to look at yourself, usually from above.” Entry from Susannah’s book after her recovery.

We can only imagine how many “brain on fire”, labeled as insane are still misdiagnosed or medically maltreated, and not because the science is not blooming, but because we can make a cut to the brain and look inside, we can count neurons or their supportive substances, we can calculate the speed of information traveling through our body, but the question, how an individual reacts or responds to a certain internal or external impulses, still remains open, never completely reaching ONE, determined formula, why humans act the way they act.

“And there are never really endings, happy or otherwise. Things keep going on, they overlap and blur, your story is part of your sister's story is part of many other stories, and there is no telling where any of them may lead.” Erin Morgenstern, The Night Circus.

Each epoch inherited its own “master piece” on human behavior; initial image on human secret world went through generations, “never really ending”, until it spoke to us today, in 21st century; our theory on human psychology is a piece of previous century, and will be a tiny story of future ages, without “telling where any of these theories lead”; but the message always will be one: building a meaning to each other’s life.

By Mancho Busse

Related stories:

Shall We Dance?

Are We the Same or Just Getting Better?