nancylebov (nancylebov) wrote,

On delusion and real conspiracies

It's not clear who forcibly sedated her in 1972. It's not certain that she was admitted to a psychiatric ward in the following year. What's definite though is that many people thought she was mad as she ranted about conspiracies in the White House during eccentric phone calls to the press. Questions about Martha Beall Mitchell's sanity were encouraged by the Nixon administration, who consistently briefed against her and probably had her medicated against her will. But ultimately her claims were proven correct when the Watergate scandal broke.

Mitchell was the wife of the US attorney general and saw the planning and cover-up of the Watergate burglaries first-hand. In retrospect, her seemingly paranoid claims made sense and, in her honour, Harvard psychologist Brendan Maher named the Martha Mitchell effect after her to describe the situation where someone is incorrectly diagnosed as delusional but turns out to be right.

The DSM weighs in, but I think it's being useless.
This relationship has recently been acknowledged with the publication of the new version of the psychiatrists' diagnostic manual (the DSM-5) where one of the most interesting but less noticed changes has been the redefinition of the delusion, a symptom that has long been considered the "basic characteristic of madness".

Delusions, in the medical sense, are not simply a case of being mistaken, as the everyday use of the term suggests. They are profound and intensely held beliefs that seem barely swayed by evidence to the contrary – even to the point of believing in the bizarre. My heart has been replaced by steam. My thoughts are being stolen by satellites. The government communicates with me through birdsong.

If Margaret Mitchell has clear memories about the planning and cover-up of the Watergate burglaries, should she be unwilling to accept evidence to the contrary?*

(This post also appears at dreamwidth.)

"shouldn't" corrected to "should".

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