Insanity

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Insanity, craziness or madness is a spectrum of behaviors characterized by certain abnormal mental or behavioral patterns. Insanity may manifest as violations of societal norms, including becoming a danger to themselves and others, though not all such acts are considered insanity. In modern usage insanity is most commonly encountered as an informal unscientific term denoting mental instability, or in the narrow legal context of the insanity defense. In the medical profession the term is now avoided in favor of diagnoses of specific mental illness such as schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders.[1] When discussing mental illness in general terms, "psychopathology" is considered a preferred descriptor.[2]

In English, the word "sane" derives from the Latin adjective sanus meaning "healthy". The phrase "mens sana in corpore sano" is often translated to mean a "healthy mind in a healthy body". From this perspective, insanity can be considered as poor health of the mind, not necessarily of the brain as an organ (although that can affect mental health), but rather refers to defective function of mental processes such as reasoning. A Latin phrase for "sane" is "compos mentis" (lit. "of composed mind"), and a euphemistic term for insanity is "non compos mentis". In law, mens rea means having had criminal intent, or a guilty mind, when the act (actus reus) was committed.

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Historical views and treatment

Madness, the non-legal word for insanity, has been recognized throughout history in every known society. Primitive cultures turned to witch doctors or shamans to apply magic, herbal mixtures, or folk medicine to rid deranged persons of evil spirits or bizarre behavior, for example.[3]

In ancient Israel it was held that disturbances of the mind or emotions were caused by "supernatural forces" or an angry God, as a punishment for sin or failure to follow the commandments. The Old Testament is replete with references to kings and commoners that go insane, and the Jewish prophets were thought to be psychologically abnormal because they acted in strange ways, departed markedly from the norm in appearance, and foretold of future events that few understood.[4]

The Greeks replaced concepts of the supernatural with a secular view, believing that afflictions of the mind did not differ from diseases of the body. They saw mental and physical illness as a result of natural causes and an imbalance in bodily humors. Hippocrates frequently wrote that an excess of black bile resulted in irrational thinking and behavior.[4]

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