Crazy? Hysterical? Mad? Really?

A few months ago, when discussing Marshall Applewhite, the leader of the Hale Bop cult, Heaven’s Gate, a highly respected neurologist and skeptic, Dr Steven Novella, made a comment alluding to the fact that “you could just tell he was mad, by the look behind his eyes.”

Now, I understand we all make short-cuts of language when speaking informally, but I was very tempted to write in to the SGU (for the first time), to highlight that I felt this was a particularly dated and crass term to level at anyone, especially for people so educated.

I have to admit Dr Novella is the man who inspired me to study neuroscience and eventually start this blog, so it pains me  to question a man I hold in such high esteem.

However, I feel that such catch-all terms as “mad” are comparable to the dated practice of describing people as hysterical. Maybe I’m exaggerating, but I wonder if anyone agrees that it would be beneficial if the influencers of society, as a whole, would attempt to move common thinking towards a situation where people recognise a cognitive deficit in someone’s character without writing them off as being “crazy, mad or hysterical”.

I realise this takes education, which some have no inclination to acquire, however if we reduce the use of such stigmatised terms, I feel we would be on the road to a better acceptance and understanding of mental deficits.

Am I mad?