Intended for healthcare professionals

Views & Reviews Review

How mad are we?

BMJ 2008; 337 doi: (Published 19 November 2008) Cite this as: BMJ 2008;337:a2641
  1. Lesley Henderson, senior lecturer in sociology and communications, Brunel University, London
  1. lesley.henderson{at}

    Television is often blamed for helping to fuel rather than challenge the stigma associated with mental illness, and people with acute mental disorders are often depicted as frightening and potentially violent. So it was with enormous interest that I tuned into the Horizon special “How Mad are You?” The programme had generated many column inches on the back of its provocative title and unhelpful strap lines, such as “They’re coming to take me away.” Some commentators wondered whether the show might be tasteless, a sort of I’m a Nutter Get Me out of Here.

    Clearly the programme is a departure from Horizon’s traditional approach as a flagship science documentary series with an established reputation for measured scientific debate, talking heads, and “voice of God” commentary. Nevertheless we are told that this programme was inspired by the 1973 scientific controversy when the US psychologist David Rosenhan, along with seven associates, managed to be admitted to psychiatric hospital and in so doing challenged “science’s ability to judge the fine line between sanity and insanity.”

    We …

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