DISEASE AND DISORDER OF THE MIND
ALBERT WARREN FERRIS
Insanity is the name given to a collection of symptoms of disease of the brain or disorder of brain nutrition or circulation. The principal test of insanity lies in the adjustment of the patient to his surroundings, as evidenced in conduct and speech. Yet one must not include within the field of insanity the improper conduct and speech of the vicious, nor of the mentally defective. Crime is not insanity, though there are undoubtedly some insane people confined in prisons who have been arrested because of the commission of crime.
Then, too, while mental defect may exist in the insane, there is a certain class of mental defectives whose condition is due not to disease of the brain, but to arrest of development of the brain during childhood or youth, and these we call idiots or imbeciles; but they are not classed with the insane.
Mental Disorder Not Insanity
We frequently hear repeated the assertion, “Everybody is a little insane,” and the quotation is reported as coming from an expert in insanity. This quotation is untrue. The fact is that anyone is liable to mental disorder; but mental disorder is not insanity. To illustrate: a green glove is shown to a certain man and he asserts that its color is brown, and you cannot prove to him that he is wrong, because he is color blind. Green and brown appear alike to him. This is mental disorder, but not insanity. Again, a friend will explain to you how he can make a large profit by investing his money in a certain way. He does so invest it and loses it, because he has overlooked certain factors, has not given proper weight to certain influences, and has ignored probable occurrences, all of which were apparent to you. He was a victim of his mental disorder, his judgment, reason, and conception being faulty; yet he was not insane. Again, you answer a letter from a correspondent, copying on the envelope the address you read at the head of his letter. A few days later your answer is returned to you undelivered. In astonishment, you refer to his letter and find that you have misread the address he gave, mistaking the number of his house. This was an instance of mental disorder in your not reading the figure aright; but it was not insanity.
What Autopsies of the Brain Reveal
The changes in the brain accompanying or resulting from disease, as found in some chronic cases of insanity in which autopsies are made, consist largely in alteration of the nerve cells of the brain. The cells are smaller and fewer than they should be, they are altered in shape, and their threads of communication with other cells are broken. Nerve cells and often large areas of gray matter are replaced by connective tissue (resembling scar tissue), which grows and increases in what would otherwise be vacant spaces. All areas which contain this connective tissue, this filling which has no function, of course, cease to join with other parts of the brain in concerted action, and so the power of the brain is diminished, and certain of its activities are restricted or abolished.
Curious Illusions of the Insane
In the normal brain certain impressions are received from the special senses: impressions of sight or of hearing, for example. These impressions are called conscious perceptions, and the healthy brain groups them together and forms concepts. For instance, you see something which is flat and shiny with square cut edges. You touch it, and learn that it is cold, smooth, and hard. Lift it and you find it heavy. Grouping together your sense perceptions you form the concept, and decide that the object is a piece of marble. Again, you enter a dimly lighted room and see a figure in a corner the height of a woman, with a gown like a woman’s. You approach it, speak to it and get no reply, and you find you can walk directly through it, for it is a shadow. Perhaps you were frightened. Perhaps you imagined she was a thief. Your first judgment was wrong and you correct it. The insane person, however, has defective mental processes. He cannot group together his perceptions and form proper conceptions. His imagination runs riot. His emotions of fear or anger are not easily limited. He has to some extent lost the control over his mental actions that you and other people possess if your brains are normal. The insane man will insist that there is a woman there, and not a shadow, and to his mind it is not absurd to walk directly through this person. He cannot correct the wrong idea. Such a wrongly interpreted sense perception is called an illusion. Another example of illusion is the mistaking the whistle of a locomotive for the shriek of a pursuing assassin.
What Hallucinations Are
The insane man may also suffer from hallucinations. A hallucination is a false perception arising without external sensory experience. In a hallucination of sight, the disease in the brain causes irritation to be carried to the sight centers of the brain, with a result that is similar to the impression carried to the same centers by the optic nerves when light is reflected into the eyes from some object. An insane man may be deluded with the belief that he sees a face against the wall where there is nothing at all. When the air is pure and sweet and no odor is discoverable, he may smell feathers burning, and thus reveal his hallucination of smell.
Delusions Common to Insanity
The insane man may have wrong ideas without logical reason for them. Thus, an insane man may declare that a beautiful actress is in love with him, when there is absolutely no foundation for such an idea. Or, he may believe that he can lift 500 pounds and run faster than a locomotive can go, while in reality he is so feeble as scarcely to be able to walk, and unable to dress himself. Such ideas are delusions. Sane people may be mistaken; they may have hallucinations, illusions and delusions; but they abandon their mistaken notions and correct their judgment at once, on being shown their errors. Sane people see the force of logical argument, and act upon it, abandoning all irrational ideas. The insane person, on the other hand, cannot see the force of logical argument; cannot realize the absurdity or impossibility of error. He clings to his own beliefs, for the evidence of his perverted senses or the deductions from his disease irritation are very real to him. When we find this to be the fact we know he is insane.
Yet we must not confound delirium of fever with insanity. A patient suffering from typhoid fever may have a delusion that there is a pail by his bed into which he persists in throwing articles. Or he may have the hallucination that he is being called into the next room, and try to obey the supposed voice.
Certain delusions are commonly found in certain types of insanity. Depressed patients frequently manifest the delusion that they have committed a great sin, and are unfit to associate with anyone. Excited and maniacal patients often believe they are important personages kings or queens, old historical celebrities, etc. Paranoiacs commonly have delusions of persecution and of a conspiracy among their relatives or their associates or rivals. Victims of alcoholic insanity have delusions regarding sexual matters, and generally charge with infidelity those to whom they are married. General paretics in most cases have delusions of grandeur; that is, false ideas of great strength, wealth, political power, beauty, etc.
The emotion which accompanies mental activity is generally exaggerated in all insane people except the demented. One sees extreme depression, or undue elation and exaltation, or silly glee and absurd joy. Intensity of emotion is frequent.
Crimes Impulsively Committed by the Insane
An interesting mental feature of many insane patients is the imperative conception, or imperative impulse. This is a strong urging felt by the patient to commit a certain act. He may know the act is wrong and dread the punishment which he expects will follow its commission. But so constantly and strongly is he impelled that he finally yields and commits the act. Crimes are thus perpetrated by the insane, with a full knowledge of their enormity. The fact that such impulses undoubtedly exist should modify the common test, as to an insane person’s responsibility before the law. The statute in many countries regards an insane criminal as responsible for his act, if he knows the difference between right and wrong. This decision is unjust and the basis is wrong; for an impulse may be overwhelming, and the patient utterly helpless during its continuance. However, a patient who has committed a crime under stress of such an irresistible impulse should be put under permanent custodial care.
Physical Signs of Insanity
The physician who is skilled in psychiatry finds in very many insane patients marked physical signs. There are pains, insensitive areas, hypersensitive areas, changes in the pupils of the eyes, unrestrained reflex action, and partial loss of muscular control, as shown in talking, walking, and writing. Constipation and insomnia are very early symptoms of disease in a very large proportion of the insane.
It is productive of no good result for a layman to try to classify the insane. The matter of classification will be for several years in a condition of developmental change. It is enough to speak of the patient as depressed or excited, agitated or stupid, talkative or mute, homicidal, suicidal, neglectful, uncleanly in personal habits, etc.
Illustrations of Various Types
There are very interesting features connected with typical instances of several varieties of insanity, as they were noted in certain cases under the writer’s care. A depressed patient with suicidal tendencies cherished the delusion that war with Great Britain was imminent, and that in such an event British troops would be landed on Long Island between New York City and the spot where he conceived the cattle to be kept. This, he argued, would cut off the beef and milk supply from the city. He therefore decided to do his part toward husbanding the present supply of food by refusing to eat; an act which necessitated feeding him through a rubber tube for many weeks. He also attempted suicide by drowning, throwing himself face downward in a shallow swamp, whence he was rescued. This young man was an expert chess player even during his attack.
A maniacal patient wore on her head a tent of newspaper to keep the devil from coming through the ceiling and attacking her. She frequently heard her husband running about the upper floor with the devil on his back. As a further precaution she stained her gray hair red with pickled beet juice, and would occasionally hurl loose furniture at the walls and ceilings of her rooms and assault all who approached her.
A man who presented a case of dementia pulled the hairs from his beard and planted them in rows in the garden, watering them daily, and showing much astonishment that they did not grow. He spent hours each day in spelling words backward and forward, and also by repeating their letters in the order in which they appear in the alphabet. When he wanted funds he signed yellow fallen leaves with a needle, and they turned into money.
A case of general paresis (commonly though improperly called “softening of the brain”) passed into the second stage as a delusion was uppermost to the effect that there was opium everywhere; opium in his hat, opium in his newspaper, opium in his bath sponge, opium in his food. He thereupon refused to eat, and was fed with a tube for two years, at the end of which time he resumed natural methods of nutrition and ate voraciously. Another general paretic promised to his physician such gifts as an ivory vest with diamond buttons, boasted of his great strength while scarcely able to walk alone, and declared he was a celebrated vocalist, while his lips and tongue were so tremulous he could scarcely articulate.
Fixed Delusions of Paranoia
Paranoia is an infrequent variety of insanity in which the patient is dominated by certain fixed delusions, while for a long time his intellect is but slightly impaired. The delusions are usually persecutory, and the patient alleges a conspiracy. He is generally deluded with the belief that he is a prominent person in history, or an Old Testament worthy, and there is usually a religious tinge to his delusions. A patient of the writer believed himself to be the reincarnation of Christ, appearing as “the Christ of the Jews and the Christ of the Christians” in one. Over the head of his landlord, who requested overdue rent, the patient fired a revolver, “to show that the reign of peace had begun in the world.” He wrote a new bible for his followers, and arranged for a triumphal procession headed by his brother and himself on horseback, wearing white stars.
How the Physician Should Be Aided
When there is a suspicion of irrationality in a person’s conduct, and certain acts or speeches suggest insanity, the whole surroundings and the past life must be considered. Frequently when the eyes are once opened to the fact of insanity, a whole chapter of corroborating peculiarities can be recalled. It is wise to recall as many of these circumstances as possible and note them in order as they occurred, for the use of the physician. Strikingly eccentric letters should be saved. Odd arrangement of clothes, or the collecting of useless articles, should be noted in writing. Changes in character, alteration in ideas of propriety, changes in disposition, business or social habits, and great variation in the bodily health should be noted in writing. Delusions, hallucinations, and illusions should be reported in full. It conveys nothing to anyone’s mind to say that the patient is queer; tell what he does or says that leads you to think he is queer, and let the physician draw his own inferences from the deeds or speeches. Write down, for example, that the patient talks as if answering voices that are imaginary; or that the patient brought an ax into the dining room and stood it against the table during the meal; or that he paraded up and down the lawn with a wreath of willow branches about his neck; in each case stating the actual fact. It is important to ascertain exactly what the patient’s habits are, as to the use of alcoholic beverages, tobacco, and drugs (such as opium), and also as to sexual matters. To secure such information is extremely difficult, and the help of a close friend or companion will be necessary. After the mind begins to waver many a patient plunges into dissipation, though formerly a model of propriety.
The Causes of Insanity
The two great causes of insanity are heredity and stress or strain. Lunacy is not infrequent in children of epileptic, alcoholic, or insane parents, and those born of parents suffering from nervous disease frequently are in such condition that shock, intense emotion, dissipation, or exhausting diseases render them insane. Drinking alcoholic beverages is the most potent factor in the production of insanity. Mental strain, overwork, and worry come next. Adverse conditions, bereavement, business troubles, etc., rank third, equally with heredity. The arterial diseases of old age, epilepsy, childbirth (generally in the neurotic), change of life, fright and nervous shock, venereal diseases, sexual excesses or irregularities follow in the order named.
A Temperate, Virtuous Life the Best Preventive
To avoid insanity, therefore, one should lead a righteous, industrious, sensible life, preserve as much equanimity as possible, and be content with moderate pleasure and moderate success. In many cases, people who are neurotic from early youth are so placed that unusual demands are made upon them. Adversity brings necessity for overwork, duties are manifold, and responsibilities are heavy. In ignorance of the fact that they are on dangerous ground and driven by circumstances, they overwork, cut short their sleep, and, conscientiously pressing on, finally lose their mental balance and insanity is the result, a great calamity which is really no fault of theirs. Undoubtedly such is frequently the sad history; and for this reason, as well as for the general reason that the insane are simply ill, all insane should be cared for sympathetically. To consider the insane as constantly malevolent is a relic of the old time, absurd belief that insane people were “possessed of the devil.” It is no disgrace to be insane, and the feeling of chagrin at discovering disease of the brain in a relative is another absurdity. Avoidance of insanity should be studied with as much devotion as avoidance of tuberculosis. Yet there should be no detraction from the fact that the heredity is strong. No one should be allowed to marry who has been insane, for the offspring of the insane are defective.
The tendency of the times is toward nervous and mental disorder. In the large cities the strain is too constant, the struggle is too keen, the pace is too swift. Haste to be rich, desire to appear rich, or ambition for social distinction has wrecked many a bright, strong intellect. This is the age of the greatest luxury the world has ever seen, and a large proportion of people in cities are living beyond their means, in the gratification of luxurious desires or the effort to appear as well as others. Stress and strain are voluntarily invited. Children are pushed in their studies and overloaded with too many subjects. Genius and insanity, worry and dementia, proceed among us hand in hand; the overwrought brain finally totters.
False Ideas Regarding Insanity
Curious ideas regarding insanity are common, and are apparently fostered by the reportorial writers of the daily papers. We read of people who are “insane on a subject.” This is an impossibility. Many people can be drawn out and led into a betrayal of their mental condition only when a certain topic or idea is discussed. But although exhibiting their insane condition only when this topic is broached, they are in no respect sane. Not every act of an insane man is an insane act, we must remember. Forgetfulness of this fact leads to errors in the superficial. You will hear people say that a certain person must be sane, because during a half day’s companionship nothing astray was noticed. True, there may be a long period of self control, or of absence of test; but occasional conduct will establish the fact of constant insanity. Again, we hear the expression: “He cannot be insane; there is too much method in such madness.” The answer to this silly remark is that there is method in all madness except some epileptic insanity and terminal dementia. Insane people prepare careful plans, with all the details thoroughly considered, and perfect methods to escape from hospitals with the greatest cunning. One must never take it for granted that the insane person is so demented mentally as to be unable to appreciate what is said and done. One should never talk about the insane man in his presence, but should include him in the conversation as if sane, as a general rule, allaying his suspicions and avoiding antagonism. Do not agree with the delusions of an insane person, except so far as may be necessary to draw them out. Yet avoid argument over them. Simply do not agree, and do not strengthen them by appearing to share them. His food should be prepared for him, and his medicines administered to him as to any other sick person. His baths should be regularly taken.
A depressed patient should be very carefully watched. If the slightest suspicion of a suicidal impulse be present, the patient should never be left alone. Many a valuable life has been saved through the moral support of constant companionship; while we read very frequently of the death of an insane patient who sprang from a window during a brief period of relaxation of watchful care. Some people think it a protection to one insane to elicit from him a promise not to be depressed, and not to do anything wrong. One might as well secure a promise not to have a rise of temperature. The gloom of despondency and the suicidal impulse are as powerful as they are unwelcome and unsought; and the wretchedly unhappy patient cannot alone meet the issue and resist.
It is unreasonable to be offended by acts or speeches of an insane patient, to bear a grudge or expect an apology. Very frequently such a patient will turn savagely upon the nearest and dearest, and make cutting remarks and accusations or exhibit baseless contempt. All this conduct must be ignored and forgotten; for the unkind words of an unaccountable and really ill person should not be taken at all seriously.
Should a patient escape from home, it is the duty of the one in charge without hesitation to overtake him, and then accompany him or at least follow at a short distance. The nurse should go with and stay with the patient, telephoning or telegraphing home when opportunity offers, and finally securing aid; he should know where the patient is at all times, foregoing sleep if necessary to protect his charge, and should avoid as long as prudence permits the publicity of an arrest; though the latter may finally be essential to safety, and to the prevention of embarking on a voyage, or taking a train to a distance, or purchasing weapons.
Diversions. Music favorably affects many patients, so the pleasure of listening to it should be afforded at frequent intervals. Patients should be encouraged to absorb themselves in it. It is often possible to take insane people to opera, musical comedy, or concert. Vocal and instrumental practice at suitable intervals is of great value in fixing the attention, filling the mind with desirable thoughts and memories, and allaying irritability. Drawing and painting are of service when within the number of the patient’s accomplishments. Intellectual pastimes, as authors, anagrams, billiards, chess, and many games with playing cards, are generally helpful. Gardening, croquet, and tennis are very desirable. Golf, rowing, swimming, and skating are excellent, but are within the reach of very few insane patients. All regular occupation that necessitates attention and concentration is of supreme value; in fact, insane patients not infrequently ask for occupation and find relief in the accomplishment of something useful, as well as in the healthful sleep and increased appetite that attend judicious physical fatigue.
The Beneficial Atmosphere of Sanitariums
After caring for an insane patient for a time at home, the question arises as to the desirability of sending him away to a sanitarium. Generally this is a wise course to pursue. The constant association with an insane person is undermining; the responsibility is often too heavy; children, often inheriting the same neurotic tendency and always impressionable, should not be exposed to the perverting influence; it may not be safe to keep a patient with suicidal or homicidal impulses in his home; the surroundings amid which the insane ideas first started may tend to continue a suggestion of these ideas. Removal to strange locality and new scenes, the influence of strangers, the abandonment of all responsibilities and duties, and the atmosphere of obedience, routine, and discipline are all beneficial. An insane person will generally make a greater effort for a stranger than for a familiar relative. Discipline, in the form of orders of the physicians, and exact obedience is very often very salutary. There is a feeling with some that all discipline is cruel. This is not so, for the conduct of an insane person is not all insane, but frequently needs correction. Many cases of mental alienation improve promptly under custodial care, many need it all their lives. A great many cases of insanity are never obliged to go away from home, and there is a considerable number who carry on a business while still insane, rear a family, and take care of themselves. In general, a depressed patient should be kept at home as long as there is absolute safety in so doing. Most other forms of mental disease progress more rapidly toward recovery in sanitariums or hospitals equipped for such patients. Prospects of recovery are never jeopardized by confinement in a proper institution. Mental and physical rest, quiet, regularity of eating, exercising, and sleeping are the essentials which underlie all successful treatment of these cases. Dietetics, diversion by means of games, music, etc., regular occupation of any practicable sort, together with the association with the hopeful, tactful, and reasoning minds of physicians and nurses trained for this purpose are of great value. It must be remembered that in wholly civilized localities madhouses have been replaced by hospitals, keepers have been replaced by nurses and attendants, and the old methods of punishment and coercion have been long since abandoned, in the light of modern compassionate custody.
Certain forms of insanity are hopeless from the start. Few recover after two years of mental aberration. Omitting the hopeless cases, over forty per cent of the cases of insanity recover. About sixty per cent recover of the cases classed as melancholia and mania. Most recoveries occur during the first year of the disease; but depressed patients may emerge and recover after several years’ treatment.
 Caution. Dangerous. Use only on physician’s order.