In this article, I associate madness with psychiatric medical conditions. For example, people who are diagnosed with schizophrenia, depression, or manic-depression have mental illnesses and have shown symptoms of madness. Symptoms of madness include psychosis- being out of touch with reality.
The terms ‘mental illness’ and ‘medical condition’ imply that there ought to be some kind of treatment. It assumes that madness is a disease or an illness that must definitely be cured or treated.
In particular, people who are mad can benefit from treatment, enabling them to function more effectively in society. People with some kinds of madness are out of touch with reality- they are paranoid and they think that there is some conspiracy against them. It is because of these incorrect beliefs that they are not able to function properly in society.
In the above case, it looks as though we can help people who are not functioning properly in society, to function better. Hence, the case for treatment. But there are other types of cases where we might raise the challenge- should madness be treated or cured, or should mad people be left to their own devices?
There is a view that links creativity to madness. For example, the British comedian Stephen Fry has manic-depression. His manic moments seem to give him a creative spark that allows him to create fantastic scripts for television, for instance. Could he have been the comedian that he is without manic-depression? The same idea applies to artists such as Van Gogh, who is well-known to be insane. Could he have produced his works without being mentally ill?
People can be creative without being mad, but is there a link between creative genius and madness? If so, then we might want to think twice about treating or curing people with madness. We could have prevented self-harm and suicide by treating Van Gogh, but possibly at the expense of his art-work and genius. What is the right thing to do in this case?
Another consideration concerns personal consent. Many people who are deemed mad by society do not consent to their being treated. They are locked up in mental asylums, unable to get out. It is as though society has judged them to be harmful if they were to be let loose into society- they have therefore to be kept away in a mental institution.
If what we want in society is conformity and standardisation, then yes, people with deviant behaviour and alternative perceptions should be kept away. But if society can be a place where diversity is embraced, then there should be no reason why mad people cannot live amongst others in society, particularly if they have not consented to being in a mental asylum.