Biology 202
Neurobiology and Behavior
Spring 2003

Forum Archive - Week 5

Forum conversation this week was triggered by the first posting, raising questions in a variety of contexts about the existence, meaning, and significance of "personal responsiblity".


Name:  CS
Subject:  abnormal behavior and mental illness
Date:  2003-02-20 20:18:11
Message Id:  4734
Comments:
I was somewhat baffled today in class to hear that so many people think that all people are responsible for their own behaviors. I would like to argue that there are disorders which a large percentage of the population suffer from that drastically affect behavior (since they affect the brain), and that these disorders, and thus behaviors, cannot justly be considered the fault of the people that have and do them. I am speaking from experience: I have a mother who suffers from bipolar disorder, who spent my entire childhood behaving irrationally. And, for most of my childhood, I hated her for it. Because I could not see that she was physically ill, I felt that she had control over her behaviors. This is a common theme in our society's perception of the mentally ill. We do not blame someone with cancer for being tired and in pain, but we're quick to call someone with major depression selfish, whiney, or lazy. The separation between what we consider "physical" and "mental" illnesses, however, is an extraordinarily fuzzy line. We CAN see physical symptoms in sufferers of many mental illnesses, but these symptoms are inside the brain and not on display. I treated my mother's illness like a character flaw. Trust me, her behavior WAS frightening and abnormal, and since these behaviors were her symptoms, I couldn't see that there was something biological causing her to behave so hurtfully. I won't go into some of my more painful memories, but she tried to buy a house in France during one manic episode (we live in Pittsburgh and do NOT have money or a need for a house in France), and accused me of having an affair with my father when she was depressed. After she got electroshock therapy, she forgot who I was for a couple of weeks. And for those of you who suggested in class that mental illness has some connection to income or intelligence, my mom has an MD and a PhD from Harvard, and is now a psychiatrist after a decade of teaching history at Rice University. Her IQ and her position could not protect her from what happened to her brain, however. It has taken me years to realize that she did not do these things on purpose. She was in treatment and doing everything she could be doing to get better, and she just wasn't. It was NOT HER FAULT. I use my own experience as an example of how out of control behavior can get. This was not some sort of character flaw of my mother's. It did not happen because she was weak. It happened because of genetic factors and chemical imbalances. Unfortunately, mental illness is so stigmatized in our society that most peple don't understand that. Most people also don't know that there are 280,000 people with major mental illnesses (schizophrenia, bipolar, major depression, etc.) in jails and only 70,000 in hospitals. About 26% of diagnosed schizophrenic jail inmates have access to ANY TYPE of treatment for their illness. When these people have delusions or hallucinogenic episodes, they are frequently put in restraints or solitary confinement. Neither of these "treatments" are very helpful for someone going through the hell of a schizophrenic episode. Want to talk about serial killers? Fine. Jeffrey Dahmer was put in jail in '88 for molesting a child. However, despite the concern of his family and several mental health professionals about his mental health, our system decided he did not need treatment. Dahmer spent the next few years killing, dismembering, and eating at least 17 people. Perhaps if we acknowledged the severe impact of mental illness on behavior, we would provide people like Dahmer with the treatment they need, and prevent such behavior. However, because so many people are willing to treat mental illness like a bad excuse for doing something wrong, we get nowhere in our prevention attempts. So, who do I think should be held responsible when people who are severely mentally ill commit terrible crimes? Us. Our justice system, our attitudes toward the mentally ill, our unwillingness to provide cheap and accessible treatment, our HMOs that carve out their mental health coverage to companies like Magellan, who keep people in treatment for about as much time as it takes to explain why you're their. Until we can actually provide for our sick, we can't morally hold them responsible for behaviors which are caused by their illnesses. Don't believe that the behaviors ARE caused by these illnesses? Check out the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill, www.NAMI.org. Or read Kay Jamison's An Unquiet Mind, or Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar. These extremely intelligent women do a really effective job of showing just how much control a mental illness can take over your life.
Having a mental illness can be life threatening, ostracizing, hellish and terrifying. Perhaps the worst thing about it, though, is having to deal with the majority of the world thinking it is your fault.
Name:  Paul Grobstein
Username:  pgrobtste@brynmawr.edu
Subject:  on depression and ...
Date:  2003-02-20 21:21:32
Message Id:  4735
Comments:
Having experienced several significant depressive episodes in my own life, I can personally testify to the reality of their being states of the brain over which one does not in fact have immediate personal control. And to the importance of having around one at such times people who understand, sympathize with, and are able/willing to help in such circumstances. As CS (and others in the course) have noted, there is a need for a widespread change in attitudes toward "mental illness" (cf. Depression ... Or (better?) Thinking About Mood, in addition to the resources CS lists). We'll get back to this later in the course, when we'll have the needed better handle both on mood and on the I-function (yes, action potentials and related things are relevant). I look forward to thinking more about these issues together, and would be pleased if we can collectively help in their being better understood not only among us, but in the population at large.
Name:  Alanna (or AJ) ( I listed my n
Username:  ajalbano@brynmawr.edu
Subject:  The I-function
Date:  2003-02-22 11:32:22
Message Id:  4752
Comments:
The concept of the I-function is extremely intriguing, yet still difficult for me to grasp. After our class discussions, I came to the conclusion that it is a "box" within the nervous system which contains and controls our consciousness, thoughts, feelings, etc. that is connected to all of the other boxes in the nervous system which control motor and sensory function. Okay, sounds simple enough in that sense. However, when I really think about it, I don't really believe that the range of our thoughts, emotions, and consciousness can be completely contained within that little box, the I-function. It just can't be -- it seems too darn limiting. Even if the I-function exists, I think that there is much more to it then we now think. To me, it seems ridiculous that the nervous system would store such information in the I-function and only keep it there, because if it (the I-function) were to be damaged or destroyed, then where else would our existing consciousness come from? There has to be another place, or many more places where such information is stored. Humans are not robots or computers - our awareness of existence and consciousness cannot possibly depend entirely on one little box in the brain. A computer, for example, depends entirely on its CPU to function and process information. If the CPU doesn't function properly, then neither does the computer -- unlike a human nervous system, a computer has relatively few or no resources to readjust itself to such damage so that it can still find another way to function. Once its system is down, it is down. The human nervous system is so intricate and complex that it can find other ways to function as normally as possible even when part of it is damaged, even if the supposed I-function is damaged. I know this all may seem very roundabout and vague, but my point is this: if there is an I-function responsible for consciousness and thought, then we really need to reconstruct our image of it--I think that there is so much more to it than we realize. On the other hand, if the I-function isn't really there, then something else is responsible for our consciousness. Exactly what that is, I couldn't even begin to describe such a phenomenon. I just feel that in terms of I-function and consciousness, there is something "more".
Name:  Alanna
Username:  ajalbano@brynmawr.edu
Subject:  one more thing
Date:  2003-02-22 11:58:04
Message Id:  4754
Comments:
CS's last comment holds a very important message that I think anyone and everyone who sees it should read it. And if you're just skimming, at least read the very last sentence. She sums it up right there. She stated what I at this time cannot, for the most part because it is sometimes too painful to talk about with other people. I have been (and still continue) to go through similar painful experiences with some very close family members of mine. Yes, mental illness is still indeed misunderstood and looked down upon by society. Those who haven't walked in your shoes and/or just don't understand will blame the suffering individual for abnormal behaviors that just cannot be helped. I often don't share my experiences as testimony to others, because of the negative responses that I have often gotten from people when I did share my story in the past. Yes, in general, people are responsible for their own actions -HOWEVER, when an abnormality in the brain causes abnormal behaviors that just cannot be helped, then it is a completely different story. They cannot be held responsible for what they are incapable of controlling. In conclusion: give CS's comment some good thought.
Name:  Alanna
Username:  Anonymous
Subject:  
Date:  2003-02-22 12:02:36
Message Id:  4755
Comments:
Sorry, one correction to my very last comment: if you're skimming, at least read the last couple of sentences of CS's comment-she pretty much sums it up right there.
Name:  Shanti
Username:  smikkili@brynmawr.edu
Subject:  
Date:  2003-02-22 14:31:24
Message Id:  4757
Comments:
I feel like the discussion of accountability has been interpreted in a way that I did not intend. I am fully sympathetic to the fact that mental disorders cloud one's judgement and that I believe that you can be truly impaired from seeing what is right and wrong. I think mental illness is not very well understood, but I am not one of those people who thinks that a person is lazy if they are mentally ill. Two of my closest friends at Bryn Mawr are bipolar and I fully understand the ramifications of such a disorder. What I am saying, however, is that in our previous discussion of people committing crimes, it is not enough to say that because a person's brain is different, they should be allowed to act in a certain way. If someone were to come in to your home and hurt you or one of your family members, your first thought would not be, "I should excuse his actions because his brain is different from mine. He must have had a traumatic childhood or the chemical s in his brain are messed up." You're thinking, who is this person who thinks he/she can hurt my family and you want him/her to be punished for their actions. Even if you were to find out later that he was ill, you want him to be held accountable. I dont' believe that all people SHOULD be held accoutable, I believe that all people ARE held accountable. The consequences may not come just from the law but can come from your family, your friends, or in future events. Accoutability isn't something that is regulated, some people get away with major crimes while some people get nailed for minor ones, but the accountability will come from somewhere. Being held accountable doesn't neccessarily mean that the person should go to jail, but being held accountable also includes getting help. Accountability isn't just a harsh reprimand. It is unique to humans in that we have the capability to rationalize and that we recognize what was good or bad in our actions. because we can be held accountable, it allows us to change our actions and hopefully make us better people.
Name:  Rachel
Username:  rsinger@brynmawr.edu
Subject:  
Date:  2003-02-22 15:38:01
Message Id:  4758
Comments:
http://www.geocities.com/Hollywood/Boulevard/1498/m.html


This is a movie review site for Fritz Lang's "M", a German film about serial child-killer Franz Becker (who is obviously mentally ill- note the maniacal picture of Becker on the page!). I think that the last sentence of the first paragraph of the review sums up my opinions on this issue nicely. In a direct reference to Becker's verbal assault from townspeople in a kangaroo court, the end of this paragraph states: "...when he is finally cornered, human nature disintegrates." Although Becker is mentally ill, these townspeople hold him accountable for his actions.

In situations involving serial killers, our society appears rather quick to point fingers when fingers should not be pointed. True, it is difficult to determine what the exact line is that separtates sanity and insanity. However, I don't feel that it is moral to attack those who could truly benefit from some good mental rehabilitation. In my opinion, it is much easier to scorn someone who needs help then to actually go ahead and find them the help that they need. Perhaps then society is taking the "easy way out" by brutally accusing and abusing the serial killers who have been diagnosed as being mentally ill rather than looking for a means to help them.


Name:  Sarah
Username:  sfeidtATbrynmawr.edu
Subject:  I wonder...
Date:  2003-02-22 21:33:19
Message Id:  4759
Comments:
Thank you, CS, for that awesome posting. My question is, can we define "mentally ill"?
Many of us would like to find any brutal murderer to be "mentally ill" simply because s/he brutally murdered someone. It doesn't seem like any "sane" person would do anything that horrific. But are they? Do those murderers suffer from diseases like bipolar/depression, schizophrenia, or brain tumors? Do they all have a validly diagnosable condition?
The idea I'm trying to convey is, so many people plead "mental insanity" in court, that these days our society tends to roll its eyes and say, "Yeah, right." This is probably one of the reasons the system is in such bad shape. So how do we differentiate between the defendants who are truly ill, and those who are plea-bargaining? What if they have valid diseases that we can't test for? And what constitutes a "valid disease" anyway? What about blinding fury, crimes of passion? Should they be sent to anger-control therapy instead of jail?
All of this is on my mind as I try to think of how the court system could be reformed so that those truly in need of help are not left in a cell to be devoured by their diseases, while those who commit crimes in cold blood are not let off the hook. Can we always tell the one from the other?
Name:  Nicole
Username:  nmegatul@brynmawr.edu
Subject:  
Date:  2003-02-23 15:40:36
Message Id:  4763
Comments:
I was just reading through the postings and was already planning to post an idea very similar to Sarah's. I was thinking about court cases where a person may plead "not guilty by reason of insanity" and how this defense has been so overused that few people take it seriously, or at least they doubt it, when it is used. The problem is categorizing what "insanity" or mental illness is. Yes, it is hard to fathom any normally functioning person committing a murder but is it possible to not be mentally ill and commit such a crime? Not all murders can be excused by saying that the person was mentally ill and using that defense when it is not true is morally unjust because they are decreasing its validity when someone who really is mentally ill is on trial. The current system needs to keep that more in check but that is hard to do when there is a very blurry line when defining what constitutes a mental illness or even "temporary insanity" (I would like to look into what that is).
On a side note, I'm surprised by how many people in this very class alone have experience with close family/friends whom are mentally ill as I can name at least 3 in my life, but for their sake would rather not discuss it on an internet forum. I thank CS for her bravely and eloquently stated account of her experience with mental illness and for setting it straight that people with mental illness really do not have control over some of their actions. I also agree with many who have said that some of the problem is that society does not understand mental illness and so does not know how to best react for their own and the afflicted person's benefit. It is probably difficult for some people to accept it because it is scary to come to terms with the possibility that someone can simply not have control over their actions. Everyone in society is affected by mental illness, indirectly or directly, so it is surprising how uncomfortable people are to even talk about it. I believe that the more that is understood over time, the better society will be prepared to accept it and deal with it and that this will be a gradual process.
Name:  Marissa
Username:  mlitman@brynmawr.edu
Subject:  Murder on the Mind
Date:  2003-02-23 15:52:57
Message Id:  4764
Comments:
We have basically decided that all of us are different. Though our brains and nervous systems may look similar, each individual encounters different things in their life and comes from a variety of genetic codes that help determine the workings of each individual's brain. Obviously, I only have my own brain to really compare to anything else, so I do not know if others feel similarly. Since my first knowledge of murder I never understood it. I cannot comprehend how one human being can kill another in cold blood. Realizing that there are such things are revenge and defense, I can account for those as motivation, though I still cannot comprehend taking the life of another. Therefore, in my own brain, unable to fathom such things, a lot of wants to believe that there is definately a chemical imbalance or mental problem with those that do kill, especially those without motivation. In response to what Nicole said about the insanity defense, I agree that it is overused and that there must be guilty people that are not insane, however I also htink that they must be unbalanced in another regard, even just temporarily. When I see stories about temporary insanity and such, I always tell myself that there is no excuse for murder, especially if a person does not have "legitamate" mental problems. However, as CS mentioned, there are so many people in the world that go un-diagnosed, and really thats not shocking to me at all.I agree with CS that the justice system must be worked with before we can determine these things. And, what about those people that are not "insane?" Are they just rotten people that are willing to kill? Is that not a mental problem??? I have a cousin with anger and violence tendencies that has recently gone in for therapy for what they are trying to diagnose as schitzophrenia. She does not and has never appeared to be violent, but her behavior is erratic and she definately has problems, and just knowing her, if she commited a violent act, I would not be able to judge her, because I have seen how little control she has over her own behavior. What can be done for people that cannot control themselves?
Name:  Elizabeth Damore
Username:  Anonymous
Subject:  Mental Illness
Date:  2003-02-23 20:05:00
Message Id:  4768
Comments:
I thought it was interesting to read Marissa's choice of words in her post regarding her cousin's mental difficulties. She mentioned that the doctors were "trying to" diagnose her cousin as a schizophrenic, which I think speaks volumes about the narrow way our society and even the medical community views mental illness. It seems that this subject had been so taboo in past generations that we have been prevented from confronting the myriad forms of mental illness and from learning as much as we can about what causes which disorders and why. Instead, doctors tend to mold a patient's mental illness to a previously determined standard. In the future, I hope we can gain an understanding of the many different types of mental illness, and collectively we can deal with this very common problem.
Name:  geoff
Username:  gpollitt@haverford.edu
Subject:  control
Date:  2003-02-23 21:06:07
Message Id:  4773
Comments:
i feel like our old friend "free will" is rearing its ugly head again, disguised as the word "control." do killers have control over their behavior? what about depressed patients? these are valid questions, but i am still unsure as to what baseline we are working with. to ask those two questions (and assuming i am not in a depressed state or a killer), don't i have to assume that i DO have control over MY behavior?

i can make that assumption as long as my behavior doesn't put me in one of our "legitimate" mental disorder categories. if i claim to have control when i am on a psychopathic rage, i will be in trouble in more ways than one. but i wouldn't because that wasn't a pleasant time and so i see it as being out of my control. but when society tells me i am in good shape, and i feel good, i KNOW that this is MY doing.

so my question to whoever it applies is, did you have control over your actions when you ate to much the last time you were in the DC? im not talking about gorging yourself, but just eating too much i know that i didn't. with this food, i always go in with the thought that i should eat as little as possible, always. i usually leave feeling a little guilty because i have eaten too much of the not-so-nutritious food.

i use this example hoping some of our class can relate, and because it is a part of my everday behavior that i am supposed to have lots of control over. its not a major disorder, its human. ah, thats the word i was looking for, "human." it is still "human" to eat more than you wanted to at meals. that is a luxury, because in another time period it may be considered "wrong" in a serious way. if that were the case, i could honestly claim that i just don't have any control over it but i am sure no one would believe me, because i would say it in a very cold and abstract way as if it wasn't that big of a deal to me or as if i didn't think there was anything "wrong" with it. whether i enjoyed myself in the act or not may come into play as people made moral judgements, but it shouldn't because i really have no control over my actions.

i understand the judgements in the context of our society we have made about the "bad" acts that people sometimes commit, but i am bothered that the question we are looking to ask is whether or not they had control of what they were doing. decisions may or may not seem like "conscious" decisions to those making them, but consciousness does not equal control (i am very conscious of eating my meals, but i have a hard time slowing down at the end). maybe if we made people conscious or in another way put them through therapy, they would have control and then would not commit these "bad" acts anymore?

who decided in the first place they were bad. mother nature did not. if we want to base this on the "norms" of society, i understand that killers do not fit, but you know who else is "abnormal"? mother theresa, and saints in general. because it is not human to be that "good" or else we all would be capable of it. and more than that, some serial killers have quite a bit of "good" in them except for when they are killing and mutilating people. since mother theresa spent all of her time helping people, and not much time being evil, does that make her more "abnormal" than a serial killer. by our judgment system, yes it does.

i would like to make the point that we can not go around, even if the justice system were in good enough shape to concentrate on this issue, curing "abnormal" people and making them "normal" like the rest of us.
they are a part of society, and they didn't decide these norms any more than we did, but maybe we are the lucky ones because in this time period our behavior makes us college students and theirs makes them social deviants.

without serial killers we don't have mother theresa. that abnormality is a result of us being really dynamic creatures and having great potential for creativity and genius that requires defying the "norms" set up by society.


Name:  Amelia
Username:  aturnbul@brynmawr.edu
Subject:  
Date:  2003-02-23 21:55:59
Message Id:  4775
Comments:
In her posting, Shanti summed up what I've been feeling about the accountability issue. While some people should not be held responsible for their actions, in the example that we've been using in the forum the mentally ill, all people in our society ARE held responsible for their actions. In class in Thursday, I was thinking about George in Of Mice and Men, but did not have the opportunity to bring it up. George didn't know his own strength, inadverantly killed a woman, and was in turn killed for his actions. Was he responsible for his actions? I don't think so; George was unable to comprehend the enormity and consequences of his actions.

I also wanted to bring up the topic of the Honor Code. Both Bryn Mawr and Haverford have one, and we, as undergraduates, agree to live by it during our time here. We are expected to be responsible for our actions at all times; even if we are intoxicated, we are expected to be accountable for our actions.


Name:  Annabella Rutigliano
Username:  arutigli@brynmawr.edu
Subject:  Us and Them
Date:  2003-02-24 11:08:34
Message Id:  4785
Comments:
In class we were asked whether or not we believed that our brain controls our behavior. It was a question to which we were only able to answer with a yes or no. Because of this I believe that many misinterpretations of the answer 'yes' occurred. I agreed with the statement that you are responsible for your behavior. When I answered this I meant that we are all responsible for our behavior in most conditions. This is not to rule out the fact that there are definitely cases in which a person does not have control of their behavior. The most blatant example of this is mental illness. It must be understood that the brain is prey to emotional, and chemical/hormonal imbalances. Just like any other part of our body, our brain can be sick. As we all know, when you are sick there is absolutely nothing that you can do about it. That said, I would like to look at the originator of this argument.

Should a person who has committed a serious crime (murder etc..) be held responsible for their actions? In most cases I believe that yes, most criminals are aware of the crime that they committedóbefore, during, and after the act. While there are crimes that are committed as crimes of passion, this is an aberration from the normal criminals activity. It is definitely an uncomfortable thought, that there is no differentiation between the average person and the average criminal. Nonetheless, when you look at a serial killer they reek of wrongness. How can one say serial killer and normal in the same sentence? The disturbing truth is that most serial killers, are not insane nor were/or are they suffering from a mental illness.

This is when CS's comment that 'in terms of I-function and consciousness, there is something "more",' is applicable. Is it this "more" that she talks about the motivator behind most criminals? Or is it just a comfort blanket that we hug to ourselves, in hope that the line between us and them is not quite as thin as it seems?


Name:  Michelle Coleman
Username:  mcoleman@haverford.edu
Subject:  Honor Code & Morality and more......
Date:  2003-02-24 13:56:18
Message Id:  4786
Comments:
I think that Amelia's comments about the Honor Code spark the idea of morality. Where is it in the grand scheme of things? Is morality a inhibitory function of the brain or is it somehow a part of this "I" function that we have grown so fascinated with? Does our society make us morally conscious? And if so what does it mean to be morally conscious? If morality is something that we all have, what happens to the molar consciousness of those of us who commit horrible crimes? Do they have more or less morality? Do you think that morality is something that can even be measured?

I believe that uncovering the answers or proposing answers to these questions is essential to understanding human behavior. Supposedly, our behavior is a function of our environment. For the most part, our environments do have an elaborate moral system governed by rules, laws, and consequences. So....if all of this exist, why do people still constantly disobey and break these rules and laws? Even here at BMC and HC, we have offenders of the Honor Code. Are they less moral than the others who do not, but have thought about the possibility of breaking the rules? Can Honor Council measure a student's morality when they are asked to appear in a hearing?


Name:  Kate
Username:  ktucker@brynmawr.edu
Subject:  
Date:  2003-02-24 18:37:19
Message Id:  4789
Comments:
I am struggling with Shanti's comments on accountability. Yes, in our society, people are generally held accountable for their actions regardless of their mental state. I mean this in the context of every day life. As a student, I am expected to attend class, participate in class and do the assignments. But what if my mental state prevents me from doing so? Can I then go to the professor, tell he or she that I was depressed, and expect to be excused from the assignment as though I had the flu? And should I still hold myself responsible for fulfilling my duties, even if I was incapable at the time? This is something I frequently wrestle with. I have never in my life attempted to explain to a professor that I couldn't do something because of depression. But the plain truth is that sometimes depression prevents me from coming to class or completing an assignment. Do I have control over my actions? Do I have free will in this situation? To some extent, yes...but also no. And should this be excused? I honestly can't answer that. How do you think authority figures would react to that kind of situation? Mental illness is viewed with such skepticism in society. How many people would believe that a person was really incapacitated by depression? How many would think it was an excuse to cover up laziness? What do you think?
Name:  Laurel Jackson
Username:  ljackson@brynmawr.edu
Subject:  Thomas Szasz
Date:  2003-02-24 19:55:35
Message Id:  4792
Comments:
In class on Thursday, someone mentioned the idea that mental illness does not exist. I couldn't hear the name that the person mentioned, but I immediately thought of Thomas Szasz. Szasz wrote The Myth of Mental Illness: Foundations of a Theory of Personal Conduct, amoung other books, arguing that "mental illness" is merely a label that has no basis in science, and leads to the oppression of the public.
Not everything he says is untrue. For the most part, we don't know what are the specific biologic processes of many psychiatric diseases. There are variants in every individual who suffers from them. People are diagnosed with a disease when they exhibit a certain amount of observed symptoms associated with the disease. But I disagree with Szasz. Just because we don't know the specifics, does not mean the disease does not exist. There are several diseases, non-psychological, which are still mysteries to the medical profession. That doesn't mean the patients aren't afflicted.
My aunt is the chief of medicine and psychiatry at Mississippi State Mental Hospital. She's often said that she would like to put Thomas Szasz in a room with a 250 male diagnosed with schizophrenia who experiences violent hallucinations. It's true that not all diseases are understood, but instead of stating that they don't exist, more effort should be applied to research exploring the biological backgrounds.
Name:  Neela
Username:  nthirugn@brynmawr.edu
Subject:  
Date:  2003-02-24 21:26:13
Message Id:  4797
Comments:
Psychological disorders such as chronic depression do have neurobiological explanations, and there are medications such as Xanax, Zoloft,and Prozac that combat these illnesses on a biological level. However, outside of the scientific community, they remain misunderstood mainly because their symptoms are recognized as emotions, which are seen as controllable and therefore voluntary.
Geoff's comment about the unsettling categories of "normal" and "abnormal" provide interesting backdrops to this subject. What if a person has a melancholy, thoughtful and solitary temperament in a society of driven social butterflies? Surely this person would seem "abnormal" and maybe even ill. Because this person's behavior probably has a biologic function, it probably has a psychopharmaceutical solution. Would medicating this person (who might have excelled in the Victorian era) and thus changing this person's biology and behavior be ethical? Indeed, how do we define normal and when is medication appropriate?
Name:  Melissa
Username:  mosorio@brynmawr.edu
Subject:  Accountability
Date:  2003-02-24 21:33:48
Message Id:  4798
Comments:
I thought our discussion last week about accountability was very interesting. If what we have been saying is true that brain equals behavior than we are accountable for all our actions. While this may be true, for serial killers as well as other individuals, this does not been that people should be punished for those actions all of the time. If someone murders someone they are accountable for this action, but because something in their brain like a mental disabilities causes them to have that behavior maybe they shouldn't be punished for that behavior in the same way. I think the other problem with our class discussion is that we did not define accountability; if we had we might have been able to clarify our arguments better.

The I-function was another topic of interest. People were arguing that the I- function can operate with its own output. Therefore, the I-function can work separately. This was, to many in class, maybe the source of some of the abnormal behavior. The thing I was thinking was what Emily Dickinson said about the brain being bigger than the sky. Even if the I-function works own its own it is contained in the brain. Therefore we are back to our original concept that brain equals behavior, so we are accountable for all our actions even the ones that we do subconsciously.


Name:  Danielle McManus
Username:  dmcmanus@brynmawr.edu
Subject:  
Date:  2003-02-24 21:57:01
Message Id:  4799
Comments:
In response to the question of how we determine who's "mentally ill," I have two thoughts:

--One of the key features of mental illness is distress. That is, if abnormal patterns of thought or behavior cause substantial distress, unhappiness, or discomfort in the afflicted, they are termed "abnormal" and treatment should be sought in the interest of the person's well-being. Clinical depression is an excellent example of a form of behavior that causes significant and prolonged suffering and is thus treated as a mental illness. In contrast, mild, transient forms of depression ("the blues," "my cat ate my hampster," etc.) aren't placed within the category of mental illness because of the relatively low levels of personal distress involved.

--Another significant point in determing what mental illness is is whether it causes significant distress to others who come in contact with the afflicted person. Here we could use the example of a sociopath, who feels little distress herself, but causes quite a bit in those around her. Sociopaths who kill, rape, abuse, and generally flout social law do significant, prolonged, often irreparable damage to others and are therefore classed as mentally ill and in need of treatment.


Name:  
Username:  imoissiu@brynmawr.edu
Subject:  mental illness
Date:  2003-02-24 23:32:24
Message Id:  4801
Comments:
I feel like mental illness is so complex. People can have serious depressions (where the brain is powerless to correct the problem). Usually in these cases, medication is needed. However, there is also seasonal depression. Is it possible that a traumatic even and the lack of sun can cause depression? I find that to be a little odd. I can understand why the traumatic even can lead to depression but,...the sun?

Then there is self-induced depression or people who choose to be depressed - such as "cutting". Although the person may be aware that what they are doing is wrong, they still choose to continue this destructive activity. Even when treated, the person may hide their cutting from family members. So why is it that some people want to be depressed (at least it seems that way to me).

To some of you that don't know about cutting, here is a link. Please don't go to this webpage if the sight of blood makes you sick. These pictures are very disturbing. http://www.ruinyourlife.com/ThePage.htm click on pictures/art - on the right
click on self-injury pictures


Name:  alexandra lippman
Username:  alippman@brynmawr.edu
Subject:  depression
Date:  2003-02-25 01:03:35
Message Id:  4807
Comments:
Because of the web-paper I forgot about having to post on the forum. Anyway, I think the word "depression" is over used, although depression is a very real illness, the actual word seems to be misused and applied to too many situations now. Also another interesting way to think about depression is that although the scenery of life remains the same, when one is depressed it is as if that sky over that scenery has become overcast. Although the day-to-day surroundings and activities is the same as before, it is as there is nothing lighting up these activities. Without this "sunlight" experience while not fundamentally changed can just becomes flat.
Name:  vivian
Username:  vbishay@brynmawr.edu
Subject:  Virginia death penalty and metal retardation
Date:  2003-02-25 01:06:19
Message Id:  4808
Comments:
Morris Mason, a young, black man from the Eastern Shore with a lifelong history of paranoid schizophrenia and a mental age of 8, was the first severely mentally handicapped prisoner executed by Virginia post Furman. Morris was killed on June 25, 1985. The most recent execution of a mentally retarded prisoner was that of Walter Correll, Jr. on Jan. 4, 1996.

Virginia allows the executions of the mentally retarded, the severely brain damaged and the mentally ill. 7 executed inmates have been documented mentally retarded in Virginia. How does Virginia define mental retardation? This raises questions of the significance of how we define mental illness and how this definition is implemented in legislation. Both houses of the General Assembly have passed legislation to outlaw executions of mentally retarded felons, but the two bills contain different definitions of mental retardation. Under Senate bill, the court would rely on a clinical definition of mentally retarded and base its decisions on evidence provided by mental health experts. The socio-economic status of an inmate then, could influence the legitimacy of the clinical diagnosis. On average, poor inmates don't have the benefit of hiring outside doctors to evaluate their mental condition and rely solely on the states evaluation, which may be skewed by public sentiment or special interests. Under the House version, the court would also have to determine whether the retardation "substantially impairs a person's capacity to appreciate the criminality of his conduct." What does substantial mean? This seems like an improvement on the definition but there's still subjectivity and personal discretion involved. Without clear boundaries, the gray area of borderline cases swells.




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