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The Touch of Madness

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The Touch of Madness

Culture profoundly shapes our ideas about mental illness, which is something psychologist Nev Jones knows all too well.


5 min read
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What factors can shape mental illness? For psychologist Nev Jones, culture plays as much of a role as biology.

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Nev Jones had memory lapses, hallucinations and trouble concentrating when she was still a promising doctoral candidate in philosophy. She was diagnosed with schizophrenia. The way her schizophrenia was treated, by doctors but also by her friends, led her to realize that the way modern Western culture ostracizes the mentally ill only makes their condition worse. She switched fields from philosophy to psychology, and now lectures on the way culture can shape the trajectory of mental illness. getAbstract recommends this article to anyone interested in how the intersection of culture and biology can impact the human mind.


The culture surrounding patients shapes the experience of mental illness as much as neurology does.

The insistence that mental illness is purely biological should exonerate sufferers from any kind of blame and shield them from stigma. Ironically, it has had the opposite effect. Making mental illness seem to be an intrinsic, immutable part of a person alienates that person from the rest of society.

In developing countries where psychotic episodes are seen as temporary intrusions into a person’s life, they are not looked on as an inherent part of the self.

About the Author

David Dobbs writes features, reviews and essays for The New York Times, National Geographic, Aeon, Mosaic, Slate and other publications. He has also written books on trees, fish and Darwin’s reefs. 

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