Book: A Straight Talking Introduction to Psychiatric Diagnosis

Book Title:

A Straight Talking Introduction to Psychiatric Diagnosis.

Author(s): Lucy Johnstone.

Year: 2014.

Edition: First (1st).

Publisher: PCCS Books.

Type(s): Paperback and Kindle.


Do you still need your psychiatric diagnosis? This book will help you to decide. A revolution is underway in mental health. If the authors of the diagnostic manuals are admitting that psychiatric diagnoses are not supported by evidence, then no one should be forced to accept them. If many mental health workers are openly questioning diagnosis and saying we need a different and better system, then service users and carers should be allowed to do so too. This book is about choice. It is about giving people the information to make up their own minds, and exploring alternatives for those who wish to do so.

Book: Drop the Disorder! Challenging the Culture of Psychiatric Diagnosis

Book Title:

Drop the Disorder! Challenging the Culture of Psychiatric Diagnosis.

Author(s): Jo Watson.

Year: 2019.

Edition: First (1st).

Publisher: PCCS Books.

Type(s): Paperback and Kindle.


In October 2016 Jo Watson hosted the very first A Disorder for Everyone!’ event in Birmingham, with psychologist Dr Lucy Johnstone, to explore (and explode) the culture of psychiatric diagnosis in mental health. To provide a space to continue the debate after the event, Jo also set up the now hugely popular and active Facebook group Drop the Disorder!’.

Since then, they have delivered events in towns and cities across the UK, bringing together activists, survivors and professionals to debate psychiatric diagnosis. How and why does psychiatric diagnosis hold such power? What harm it can do? What are the alternatives to diagnosis, and how it can be positively challenged?; This book takes the themes, energy and passions of the AD4E events – bringing together many of the event speakers with others who have stories to tell and messages to share in the struggle to challenge diagnosis.; This is an essential book for everyone of us who looks beyond the labels.

Book: Cracked: Why Psychiatry is Doing More Harm Than Good

Book Title:

Cracked: Why Psychiatry is Doing More Harm Than Good.

Author(s): James Davies

Year: 2014.

Edition: First (1st).

Publisher: Icon Books.

Type(s): Hardcover, Paperback, Audiobook, and Kindle.


Controversial and powerful – a shocking indictment of the pseudo-science at the heart of modern psychiatry.

What is Dementia Praecox?


Dementia praecox (meaning a “premature dementia” or “precocious madness”) is a disused psychiatric diagnosis that originally designated a chronic, deteriorating psychotic disorder characterised by rapid cognitive disintegration, usually beginning in the late teens or early adulthood. Over the years, the term dementia praecox was gradually replaced by schizophrenia, which remains in current diagnostic use.

The term dementia praecox was first used in 1891 by Arnold Pick (1851-1924), a professor of psychiatry at Charles University in Prague. In a brief clinical report, he described a person with a psychotic disorder resembling “hebephrenia” (schizophrenia). German psychiatrist Emil Kraepelin (1856-1926) popularised the term dementia praecox in his first detailed textbook descriptions of a condition that eventually became a different disease concept and relabelled as schizophrenia. Kraepelin reduced the complex psychiatric taxonomies of the nineteenth century by dividing them into two classes: manic-depressive psychosis and dementia praecox. This division, commonly referred to as the Kraepelinian dichotomy, had a fundamental impact on twentieth-century psychiatry, though it has also been questioned.

The primary disturbance in dementia praecox was seen to be a disruption in cognitive or mental functioning in attention, memory, and goal-directed behaviour. Kraepelin contrasted this with manic-depressive psychosis, now termed bipolar disorder, and also with other forms of mood disorder, including major depressive disorder. He eventually concluded that it was not possible to distinguish his categories on the basis of cross-sectional symptoms.

Kraepelin viewed dementia praecox as a progressively deteriorating disease from which no one recovered. However, by 1913, and more explicitly by 1920, Kraepelin admitted that while there may be a residual cognitive defect in most cases, the prognosis was not as uniformly dire as he had stated in the 1890s. Still, he regarded it as a specific disease concept that implied incurable, inexplicable madness.

Brief History

“[T]he history of dementia praecox is really that of psychiatry as a whole.” Adolf Meyer.

First Use of the Term

Dementia is an ancient term which has been in use since at least the time of Lucretius in 50 B.C.E. where it meant “being out of one’s mind”. Until the seventeenth century, dementia referred to states of cognitive and behavioural deterioration leading to psychosocial incompetence. This condition could be innate or acquired, and the concept had no reference to a necessarily irreversible condition. It is the concept in this popular notion of psychosocial incapacity that forms the basis for the idea of legal incapacity. By the eighteenth century, at the period when the term entered into European medical discourse, clinical concepts were added to the vernacular understanding such that dementia was now associated with intellectual deficits arising from any cause and at any age. By the end of the nineteenth century, the modern ‘cognitive paradigm’ of dementia was taking root. This holds that dementia is understood in terms of criteria relating to aetiology, age and course which excludes former members of the family of the demented such as adults with acquired head trauma or children with cognitive deficits. Moreover, it was now understood as an irreversible condition and a particular emphasis was placed on memory loss in regard to the deterioration of intellectual functions.

The term démence précoce was used in passing to describe the characteristics of a subset of young mental patients by the French physician Bénédict Augustin Morel in 1852 in the first volume of his Études cliniques. and the term is used more frequently in his textbook Traité des maladies mentales which was published in 1860. Morel, whose name will be forever associated with religiously inspired concept of degeneration theory in psychiatry, used the term in a descriptive sense and not to define a specific and novel diagnostic category. It was applied as a means of setting apart a group of young men and women who were suffering from “stupor.” As such their condition was characterised by a certain torpor, enervation, and disorder of the will and was related to the diagnostic category of melancholia. He did not conceptualise their state as irreversible and thus his use of the term dementia was equivalent to that formed in the eighteenth century as outlined above.

While some have sought to interpret, if in a qualified fashion, the use by Morel of the term démence précoce as amounting to the “discovery” of schizophrenia, others have argued convincingly that Morel’s descriptive use of the term should not be considered in any sense as a precursor to Kraepelin’s dementia praecox disease concept. This is due to the fact that their concepts of dementia differed significantly from each other, with Kraepelin employing the more modern sense of the word and that Morel was not describing a diagnostic category. Indeed, until the advent of Pick and Kraepelin, Morel’s term had vanished without a trace and there is little evidence to suggest that either Pick or indeed Kraepelin were even aware of Morel’s use of the term until long after they had published their own disease concepts bearing the same name. As Eugène Minkowski succinctly stated, ‘An abyss separates Morel’s démence précoce from that of Kraepelin.’

Morel described several psychotic disorders that ended in dementia, and as a result he may be regarded as the first alienist or psychiatrist to develop a diagnostic system based on presumed outcome rather than on the current presentation of signs and symptoms. Morel, however, did not conduct any long-term or quantitative research on the course and outcome of dementia praecox (Kraepelin would be the first in history to do that) so this prognosis was based on speculation. It is impossible to discern whether the condition briefly described by Morel was equivalent to the disorder later called dementia praecox by Pick and Kraepelin.

Time Component

Psychiatric nosology in the nineteenth-century was chaotic and characterised by a conflicting mosaic of contradictory systems. Psychiatric disease categories were based upon short-term and cross-sectional observations of patients from which were derived the putative characteristic signs and symptoms of a given disease concept. The dominant psychiatric paradigms which gave a semblance of order to this fragmentary picture were Morelian degeneration theory and the concept of “unitary psychosis” (Einheitspsychose). This latter notion, derived from the Belgian psychiatrist Joseph Guislain (1797-1860), held that the variety of symptoms attributed to mental illness were manifestations of a single underlying disease process. While these approaches had a diachronic aspect they lacked a conception of mental illness that encompassed a coherent notion of change over time in terms of the natural course of the illness and based upon an empirical observation of changing symptomatology.

In 1863, the Danzig-based psychiatrist Karl Ludwig Kahlbaum (1828-1899) published his text on psychiatric nosology Die Gruppierung der psychischen Krankheiten (The Classification of Psychiatric Diseases). Although with the passage of time this work would prove profoundly influential, when it was published it was almost completely ignored by German academia despite the sophisticated and intelligent disease classification system which it proposed. In this book Kahlbaum categorised certain typical forms of psychosis (vesania typica) as a single coherent type based upon their shared progressive nature which betrayed, he argued, an ongoing degenerative disease process. For Kahlbaum the disease process of vesania typica was distinguished by the passage of the sufferer through clearly defined disease phases: a melancholic stage; a manic stage; a confusional stage; and finally a demented stage.

In 1866 Kahlbaum became the director of a private psychiatric clinic in Görlitz (Prussia, today Saxony, a small town near Dresden). He was accompanied by his younger assistant, Ewald Hecker (1843-1909), and during a ten-year collaboration they conducted a series of research studies on young psychotic patients that would become a major influence on the development of modern psychiatry.

Together Kahlbaum and Hecker were the first to describe and name such syndromes as dysthymia, cyclothymia, paranoia, catatonia, and hebephrenia. Perhaps their most lasting contribution to psychiatry was the introduction of the “clinical method” from medicine to the study of mental diseases, a method which is now known as psychopathology.

When the element of time was added to the concept of diagnosis, a diagnosis became more than just a description of a collection of symptoms: diagnosis now also defined by prognosis (course and outcome). An additional feature of the clinical method was that the characteristic symptoms that define syndromes should be described without any prior assumption of brain pathology (although such links would be made later as scientific knowledge progressed). Karl Kahlbaum made an appeal for the adoption of the clinical method in psychiatry in his 1874 book on catatonia. Without Kahlbaum and Hecker there would be no dementia praecox.

Upon his appointment to a full professorship in psychiatry at the University of Dorpat (now Tartu, Estonia) in 1886, Kraepelin gave an inaugural address to the faculty outlining his research programme for the years ahead. Attacking the “brain mythology” of Meynert and the positions of Griesinger and Gudden, Kraepelin advocated that the ideas of Kahlbaum, who was then a marginal and little known figure in psychiatry, should be followed. Therefore, he argued, a research programme into the nature of psychiatric illness should look at a large number of patients over time to discover the course which mental disease could take. It has also been suggested that Kraepelin’s decision to accept the Dorpat post was informed by the fact that there he could hope to gain experience with chronic patients and this, it was presumed, would facilitate the longitudinal study of mental illness.

Quantitative Component

Understanding that objective diagnostic methods must be based on scientific practice, Kraepelin had been conducting psychological and drug experiments on patients and normal subjects for some time when, in 1891, he left Dorpat and took up a position as professor and director of the psychiatric clinic at Heidelberg University. There he established a research programme based on Kahlbaum’s proposal for a more exact qualitative clinical approach, and his own innovation: a quantitative approach involving meticulous collection of data over time on each new patient admitted to the clinic (rather than only the interesting cases, as had been the habit until then).

Kraepelin believed that by thoroughly describing all of the clinic’s new patients on index cards, which he had been using since 1887, researcher bias could be eliminated from the investigation process. He described the method in his posthumously published memoir:

… after the first thorough examination of a new patient, each of us had to throw in a note [in a “diagnosis box”] with his diagnosis written on it. After a while, the notes were taken out of the box, the diagnoses were listed, and the case was closed, the final interpretation of the disease was added to the original diagnosis. In this way, we were able to see what kind of mistakes had been made and were able to follow-up the reasons for the wrong original diagnosis.

The fourth edition of his textbook, Psychiatrie, published in 1893, two years after his arrival at Heidelberg, contained some impressions of the patterns Kraepelin had begun to find in his index cards. Prognosis (course and outcome) began to feature alongside signs and symptoms in the description of syndromes, and he added a class of psychotic disorders designated “psychic degenerative processes”, three of which were borrowed from Kahlbaum and Hecker: dementia paranoides (a degenerative type of Kahlbaum’s paranoia, with sudden onset), catatonia (per Kahlbaum, 1874) and dementia praecox, (Hecker’s hebephrenia of 1871). Kraepelin continued to equate dementia praecox with hebephrenia for the next six years.

In the March 1896 fifth edition of Psychiatrie, Kraepelin expressed confidence that his clinical method, involving analysis of both qualitative and quantitative data derived from long term observation of patients, would produce reliable diagnoses including prognosis:

What convinced me of the superiority of the clinical method of diagnosis (followed here) over the traditional one, was the certainty with which we could predict (in conjunction with our new concept of disease) the future course of events. Thanks to it the student can now find his way more easily in the difficult subject of psychiatry.

In this edition dementia praecox is still essentially hebephrenia, and it, dementia paranoides and catatonia are described as distinct psychotic disorders among the “metabolic disorders leading to dementia”.

Kraepelin’s Influence on The Next Century

In the 1899 (6th) edition of Psychiatrie, Kraepelin established a paradigm for psychiatry that would dominate the following century, sorting most of the recognized forms of insanity into two major categories: dementia praecox and manic-depressive illness. Dementia praecox was characterised by disordered intellectual functioning, whereas manic-depressive illness was principally a disorder of affect or mood; and the former featured constant deterioration, virtually no recoveries and a poor outcome, while the latter featured periods of exacerbation followed by periods of remission, and many complete recoveries. The class, dementia praecox, comprised the paranoid, catatonic and hebephrenic psychotic disorders, and these forms were found in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) until the fifth edition was released, in May 2013. These terms, however, are still found in general psychiatric nomenclature.

Change in Prognosis

In the seventh, 1904, edition of Psychiatrie, Kraepelin accepted the possibility that a small number of patients may recover from dementia praecox. Eugen Bleuler reported in 1908 that in many cases there was no inevitable progressive decline, there was temporary remission in some cases, and there were even cases of near recovery with the retention of some residual defect. In the eighth edition of Kraepelin’s textbook, published in four volumes between 1909 and 1915, he described eleven forms of dementia, and dementia praecox was classed as one of the “endogenous dementias”. Modifying his previous more gloomy prognosis in line with Bleuler’s observations, Kraepelin reported that about 26% of his patients experienced partial remission of symptoms. Kraepelin died while working on the ninth edition of Psychiatrie with Johannes Lange (1891-1938), who finished it and brought it to publication in 1927.


Though his work and that of his research associates had revealed a role for heredity, Kraepelin realized nothing could be said with certainty about the aetiology of dementia praecox, and he left out speculation regarding brain disease or neuropathology in his diagnostic descriptions. Nevertheless, from the 1896 edition onwards Kraepelin made clear his belief that poisoning of the brain, “auto-intoxication,” probably by sex hormones, may underlie dementia praecox – a theory also entertained by Eugen Bleuler. Both theorists insisted dementia praecox is a biological disorder, not the product of psychological trauma. Thus, rather than a disease of hereditary degeneration or of structural brain pathology, Kraepelin believed dementia praecox was due to a systemic or “whole body” disease process, probably metabolic, which gradually affected many of the tissues and organs of the body before affecting the brain in a final, decisive cascade. Kraepelin, recognising dementia praecox in Chinese, Japanese, Tamil and Malay patients, suggested in the eighth edition of Psychiatrie that, “we must therefore seek the real cause of dementia praecox in conditions which are spread all over the world, which thus do not lie in race or in climate, in food or in any other general circumstance of life…”


Kraepelin had experimented with hypnosis but found it wanting, and disapproved of Freud’s and Jung’s introduction, based on no evidence, of psychogenic assumptions to the interpretation and treatment of mental illness. He argued that, without knowing the underlying cause of dementia praecox or manic-depressive illness, there could be no disease-specific treatment, and recommended the use of long baths and the occasional use of drugs such as opiates and barbiturates for the amelioration of distress, as well as occupational activities, where suitable, for all institutionalised patients. Based on his theory that dementia praecox is the product of autointoxication emanating from the sex glands, Kraepelin experimented, without success, with injections of thyroid, gonad and other glandular extracts.

Use of Term Spreads

Kraepelin noted the dissemination of his new disease concept when in 1899 he enumerated the term’s appearance in almost twenty articles in the German-language medical press. In the early years of the twentieth century the twin pillars of the Kraepelinian dichotomy, dementia praecox and manic depressive psychosis, were assiduously adopted in clinical and research contexts among the Germanic psychiatric community. German-language psychiatric concepts were always introduced much faster in America (than, say, Britain) where émigré German, Swiss and Austrian physicians essentially created American psychiatry. Swiss-émigré Adolf Meyer (1866-1950), arguably the most influential psychiatrist in America for the first half of the 20th century, published the first critique of dementia praecox in an 1896 book review of the 5th edition of Kraepelin’s textbook. But it was not until 1900 and 1901 that the first three American publications regarding dementia praecox appeared, one of which was a translation of a few sections of Kraepelin’s 6th edition of 1899 on dementia praecox.

Adolf Meyer was the first to apply the new diagnostic term in America. He used it at the Worcester Lunatic Hospital in Massachusetts in the fall of 1896. He was also the first to apply Eugen Bleuler’s term “schizophrenia” (in the form of “schizophrenic reaction”) in 1913 at the Henry Phipps Psychiatric Clinic of the Johns Hopkins Hospital.

The dissemination of Kraepelin’s disease concept to the Anglophone world was facilitated in 1902 when Ross Diefendorf, a lecturer in psychiatry at Yale, published an adapted version of the sixth edition of the Lehrbuch der Psychiatrie. This was republished in 1904 and with a new version, based on the seventh edition of Kraepelin’s Lehrbuch appearing in 1907 and reissued in 1912. Both dementia praecox (in its three classic forms) and “manic-depressive psychosis” gained wider popularity in the larger institutions in the eastern United States after being included in the official nomenclature of diseases and conditions for record-keeping at Bellevue Hospital in New York City in 1903. The term lived on due to its promotion in the publications of the National Committee on Mental Hygiene (founded in 1909) and the Eugenics Records Office (1910). But perhaps the most important reason for the longevity of Kraepelin’s term was its inclusion in 1918 as an official diagnostic category in the uniform system adopted for comparative statistical record-keeping in all American mental institutions, The Statistical Manual for the Use of Institutions for the Insane. Its many revisions served as the official diagnostic classification scheme in America until 1952 when the first edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual: Mental Disorders, or DSM-I, appeared. Dementia praecox disappeared from official psychiatry with the publication of DSM-I, replaced by the Bleuler/Meyer hybridization, “schizophrenic reaction”.

Schizophrenia was mentioned as an alternate term for dementia praecox in the 1918 Statistical Manual. In both clinical work as well as research, between 1918 and 1952 five different terms were used interchangeably: dementia praecox, schizophrenia, dementia praecox (schizophrenia), schizophrenia (dementia praecox) and schizophrenic reaction. This made the psychiatric literature of the time confusing since, in a strict sense, Kraepelin’s disease was not Bleuler’s disease. They were defined differently, had different population parameters, and different concepts of prognosis.

The reception of dementia praecox as an accepted diagnosis in British psychiatry came more slowly, perhaps only taking hold around the time of World War I. There was substantial opposition to the use of the term “dementia” as misleading, partly due to findings of remission and recovery. Some argued that existing diagnoses such as “delusional insanity” or “adolescent insanity” were better or more clearly defined. In France a psychiatric tradition regarding the psychotic disorders predated Kraepelin, and the French never fully adopted Kraepelin’s classification system. Instead the French maintained an independent classification system throughout the 20th century. From 1980, when DSM-III totally reshaped psychiatric diagnosis, French psychiatry began to finally alter its views of diagnosis to converge with the North American system. Kraepelin thus finally conquered France via America.

From Dementia Praecox to Schizophrenia

Due to the influence of alienists such as Adolf Meyer, August Hoch, George Kirby, Charles Macphie Campbell, Smith Ely Jelliffe and William Alanson White, psychogenic theories of dementia praecox dominated the American scene by 1911. In 1925 Bleuler’s schizophrenia rose in prominence as an alternative to Kraepelin’s dementia praecox. When Freudian perspectives became influential in American psychiatry in the 1920s schizophrenia became an attractive alternative concept. Bleuler corresponded with Freud and was connected to Freud’s psychoanalytic movement, and the inclusion of Freudian interpretations of the symptoms of schizophrenia in his publications on the subject, as well as those of C.G. Jung, eased the adoption of his broader version of dementia praecox (schizophrenia) in America over Kraepelin’s narrower and prognostically more negative one.

The term “schizophrenia” was first applied by American alienists and neurologists in private practice by 1909 and officially in institutional settings in 1913, but it took many years to catch on. It is first mentioned in The New York Times in 1925. Until 1952 the terms dementia praecox and schizophrenia were used interchangeably in American psychiatry, with occasional use of the hybrid terms “dementia praecox (schizophrenia)” or “schizophrenia (dementia praecox)”.

Diagnostic Manuals

Editions of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders since the first in 1952 had reflected views of schizophrenia as “reactions” or “psychogenic” (DSM-I), or as manifesting Freudian notions of “defence mechanisms” (as in DSM-II of 1969 in which the symptoms of schizophrenia were interpreted as “psychologically self-protected”). The diagnostic criteria were vague, minimal and wide, including either concepts that no longer exist or that are now labelled as personality disorders (for example, schizotypal personality disorder). There was also no mention of the dire prognosis Kraepelin had made. Schizophrenia seemed to be more prevalent and more psychogenic and more treatable than either Kraepelin or Bleuler would have allowed.


As a direct result of the effort to construct Research Diagnostic Criteria (RDC) in the 1970s that were independent of any clinical diagnostic manual, Kraepelin’s idea that categories of mental disorder should reflect discrete and specific disease entities with a biological basis began to return to prominence. Vague dimensional approaches based on symptoms – so highly favoured by the Meyerians and psychoanalysts – were overthrown. For research purposes, the definition of schizophrenia returned to the narrow range allowed by Kraepelin’s dementia praecox concept. Furthermore, after 1980 the disorder was a progressively deteriorating one once again, with the notion that recovery, if it happened at all, was rare. This revision of schizophrenia became the basis of the diagnostic criteria in DSM-III (1980). Some of the psychiatrists who worked to bring about this revision referred to themselves as the “neo-Kraepelinians”.

What was the Rosenham Experiment?


The Rosenhan experiment or Thud experiment was an experiment conducted to determine the validity of psychiatric diagnosis. The participants feigned hallucinations to enter psychiatric hospitals but acted normally afterwards. They were diagnosed with psychiatric disorders and were given antipsychotic medication. The study was conducted by psychologist David Rosenhan, a Stanford University professor, and published by the journal Science in 1973 under the title “On Being Sane in Insane Places”. It is considered an important and influential criticism of psychiatric diagnosis, and broached the topic of wrongful involuntary commitment.

Rosenhan’s study was done in two parts. The first part involved the use of healthy associates or “pseudopatients” (three women and five men, including Rosenhan himself) who briefly feigned auditory hallucinations in an attempt to gain admission to 12 psychiatric hospitals in five states in the United States. All were admitted and diagnosed with psychiatric disorders. After admission, the pseudopatients acted normally and told staff that they no longer experienced any additional hallucinations. As a condition of their release, all the patients were forced to admit to having a mental illness and had to agree to take antipsychotic medication. The average time that the patients spent in the hospital was 19 days. All but one were diagnosed with schizophrenia “in remission” before their release.

The second part of his study involved a hospital administration challenging Rosenhan to send pseudopatients to its facility, whose staff asserted that they would be able to detect the pseudopatients. Rosenhan agreed, and in the following weeks 41 out of 193 new patients were identified as potential pseudopatients, with 19 of these receiving suspicion from at least one psychiatrist and one other staff member. Rosenhan sent no pseudopatients to the hospital.

While listening to a lecture by R.D. Laing, who was associated with the anti-psychiatry movement, Rosenhan conceived of the experiment as a way to test the reliability of psychiatric diagnoses. The study concluded “it is clear that we cannot distinguish the sane from the insane in psychiatric hospitals” and also illustrated the dangers of dehumanisation and labelling in psychiatric institutions. It suggested that the use of community mental health facilities which concentrated on specific problems and behaviours rather than psychiatric labels might be a solution, and recommended education to make psychiatric workers more aware of the social psychology of their facilities.

Pseudopatient Experiment

Rosenhan himself and seven mentally healthy associates, called “pseudopatients”, attempted to gain admission to psychiatric hospitals by calling for an appointment and feigning auditory hallucinations. The hospital staff were not informed of the experiment. The pseudopatients included a psychology graduate student in his twenties, three psychologists, a pediatrician, a psychiatrist, a painter, and a housewife. None had a history of mental illness. Pseudopatients used pseudonyms, and those who worked in the mental health field were given false jobs in a different sector to avoid invoking any special treatment or scrutiny. Apart from giving false names and employment details, further biographical details were truthfully reported.

During their initial psychiatric assessment, the pseudopatients claimed to be hearing voices of the same sex as the patient which were often unclear, but which seemed to pronounce the words “empty”, “hollow”, or “thud”, and nothing else. These words were chosen as they vaguely suggest some sort of existential crisis and for the lack of any published literature referencing them as psychotic symptoms. No other psychiatric symptoms were claimed. If admitted, the pseudopatients were instructed to “act normally”, reporting that they felt fine and no longer heard voices. Hospital records obtained after the experiment indicate that all pseudopatients were characterized as friendly and cooperative by staff.

All were admitted, to 12 psychiatric hospitals across the United States, including rundown and underfunded public hospitals in rural areas, urban university-run hospitals with excellent reputations, and one expensive private hospital. Though presented with identical symptoms, seven were diagnosed with schizophrenia at public hospitals, and one with manic-depressive psychosis, a more optimistic diagnosis with better clinical outcomes, at the private hospital. Their stays ranged from 7 to 52 days, and the average was 19 days. All but one were discharged with a diagnosis of schizophrenia “in remission”, which Rosenhan considered as evidence that mental illness is perceived as an irreversible condition creating a lifelong stigma rather than a curable illness.

Despite constantly and openly taking extensive notes on the behaviour of the staff and other patients, none of the pseudopatients were identified as impostors by the hospital staff, although many of the other psychiatric patients seemed to be able to correctly identify them as impostors. In the first three hospitalisations, 35 of the total of 118 patients expressed a suspicion that the pseudopatients were sane, with some suggesting that the patients were researchers or journalists investigating the hospital. Hospital notes indicated that staff interpreted much of the pseudopatients’ behaviour in terms of mental illness. For example, one nurse labelled the note-taking of one pseudopatient as “writing behaviour” and considered it pathological. The patients’ normal biographies were recast in hospital records along the lines of what was expected of schizophrenics by the then-dominant theories of its cause.

The experiment required the pseudopatients to get out of the hospital on their own by getting the hospital to release them, though a lawyer was retained to be on call for emergencies when it became clear that the pseudopatients would not ever be voluntarily released on short notice. Once admitted and diagnosed, the pseudopatients were not able to obtain their release until they agreed with the psychiatrists that they were mentally ill and began taking antipsychotic medications, which they flushed down the toilet. No staff member reported that the pseudopatients were flushing their medication down the toilets.

Rosenhan and the other pseudopatients reported an overwhelming sense of dehumanisation, severe invasion of privacy, and boredom while hospitalised. Their possessions were searched randomly, and they were sometimes observed while using the toilet. They reported that though the staff seemed to be well-meaning, they generally objectified and dehumanised the patients, often discussing patients at length in their presence as though they were not there, and avoiding direct interaction with patients except as strictly necessary to perform official duties. Some attendants were prone to verbal and physical abuse of patients when other staff were not present. A group of patients waiting outside the cafeteria half an hour before lunchtime were said by a doctor to his students to be experiencing “oral-acquisitive” psychiatric symptoms. Contact with doctors averaged 6.8 minutes per day.

Non-Existent Impostor Experiment

For this experiment, Rosenhan used a well-known research and teaching hospital, whose staff had heard of the results of the initial study but claimed that similar errors could not be made at their institution. Rosenhan arranged with them that during a three-month period, one or more pseudopatients would attempt to gain admission and the staff would rate every incoming patient as to the likelihood they were an impostor. Out of 193 patients, 41 were considered to be impostors and a further 42 were considered suspect. In reality, Rosenhan had sent no pseudopatients; all patients suspected as impostors by the hospital staff were ordinary patients. This led to a conclusion that “any diagnostic process that lends itself too readily to massive errors of this sort cannot be a very reliable one.”


Rosenhan published his findings in Science, in which he criticised the reliability of psychiatric diagnosis and the disempowering and demeaning nature of patient care experienced by the associates in the study. In addition, he described his work in a variety of news appearances, including to the BBC:

I told friends, I told my family: “I can get out when I can get out. That’s all. I’ll be there for a couple of days and I’ll get out.” Nobody knew I’d be there for two months … The only way out was to point out that they’re [the psychiatrists are] correct. They had said I was insane, “I am insane; but I am getting better.” That was an affirmation of their view of me.

The experiment is argued to have “accelerated the movement to reform mental institutions and to deinstitutionalize as many mental patients as possible”.

Many respondents to the publication defended psychiatry, arguing that as psychiatric diagnosis relies largely on the patient’s report of their experiences, faking their presence no more demonstrates problems with psychiatric diagnosis than lying about other medical symptoms. In this vein, psychiatrist Robert Spitzer quoted Seymour S. Kety in a 1975 criticism of Rosenhan’s study:

If I were to drink a quart of blood and, concealing what I had done, come to the emergency room of any hospital vomiting blood, the behavior of the staff would be quite predictable. If they labeled and treated me as having a bleeding peptic ulcer, I doubt that I could argue convincingly that medical science does not know how to diagnose that condition.

Kety also argued that psychiatrists should not necessarily be expected to assume that a patient is pretending to have mental illness, thus the study lacked realism. Rosenhan called this the “experimenter effect” or “expectation bias”, something indicative of the problems he uncovered rather than a problem in his methodology.

In The Great Pretender, a 2019 book on Rosenhan, author Susannah Cahalan questions the veracity and validity of the Rosenhan experiment. Examining documents left behind by Rosenhan after his death, Cahalan finds apparent distortion in the Science article: inconsistent data, misleading descriptions, and inaccurate or fabricated quotations from psychiatric records. Moreover, despite an extensive search, she is only able to identify two of the eight pseudopatients: Rosenhan himself, and a graduate student whose testimony is allegedly inconsistent with Rosenhan’s description in the article. In light of Rosenhan’s seeming willingness to bend the truth in other ways regarding the experiment, Cahalan questions whether some or all of the six other pseudopatients might have been simply invented by Rosenhan.

Related Experiments

In 1887 American investigative journalist Nellie Bly feigned symptoms of mental illness to gain admission to a lunatic asylum and report on the terrible conditions therein. The results were published as Ten Days in a Mad-House.]

In 1968 Maurice K. Temerlin split 25 psychiatrists into two groups and had them listen to an actor portraying a character of normal mental health. One group was told that the actor “was a very interesting man because he looked neurotic, but actually was quite psychotic” while the other was told nothing. Sixty percent of the former group diagnosed psychoses, most often schizophrenia, while none of the control group did so.

In 1988, Loring and Powell gave 290 psychiatrists a transcript of a patient interview and told half of them that the patient was black and the other half white; they concluded of the results that “clinicians appear to ascribe violence, suspiciousness, and dangerousness to black clients even though the case studies are the same as the case studies for the white clients.”

In 2004, psychologist Lauren Slater claimed to have conducted an experiment very similar to Rosenhan’s for her book Opening Skinner’s Box. Slater wrote that she had presented herself at 9 psychiatric emergency rooms with auditory hallucinations, resulting in being diagnosed “almost every time” with psychotic depression. However, when challenged to provide evidence of actually conducting her experiment, she could not. The serious methodologic and other concerns regarding Slater’s work appeared as a series of responses to a journal report, in the same journal.

In 2008, the BBC’s Horizon science programme performed a similar experiment over two episodes entitled “How Mad Are You?”. The experiment involved ten subjects, five with previously diagnosed mental health conditions, and five with no such diagnosis. They were observed by three experts in mental health diagnoses and their challenge was to identify the five with mental health problems solely from their behaviour, without speaking to the subjects or learning anything of their histories. The experts correctly diagnosed two of the ten patients, misdiagnosed one patient, and incorrectly identified two healthy patients as having mental health problems. Unlike the other experiments listed here, however, the aim of this journalistic exercise was not to criticise the diagnostic process, but to minimise the stigmatisation of the mentally ill. It aimed to illustrate that people with a previous diagnosis of a mental illness could live normal lives with their health problems not obvious to observers from their behaviour.

Book: Drop the Disorder! Challenging the Culture of Psychiatric Diagnosis

Book Title:

Drop the Disorder! Challenging the Culture of Psychiatric Diagnosis.

Author(s): Jo Watson.

Year: 2019.

Edition: First (1st).

Publisher: PCCS Books.

Type(s): Paperback and Kindle.


In October 2016 Jo Watson hosted the very first A Disorder for Everyone!’ event in Birmingham, with psychologist Dr Lucy Johnstone, to explore (and explode) the culture of psychiatric diagnosis in mental health. To provide a space to continue the debate after the event, Jo also set up the now hugely popular and active Facebook group Drop the Disorder!’.; Since then, they have delivered events in towns and cities across the UK, bringing together activists, survivors and professionals to debate psychiatric diagnosis. How and why does psychiatric diagnosis hold such power? What harm it can do? What are the alternatives to diagnosis, and how it can be positively challenged?; This book takes the themes, energy and passions of the AD4E events – bringing together many of the event speakers with others who have stories to tell and messages to share in the struggle to challenge diagnosis.; This is an essential book for everyone of us who looks beyond the labels.

Book: A Straight Talking Introduction to Psychiatric Diagnosis

Book Title:

A Straight Talking Introduction to Psychiatric Diagnosis (Straight Talking Introductions).

Author(s): Lucy Johnstone.

Year: 2014.

Edition: First (1st).

Publisher: PCCS Books.

Type(s): Paperback and Kindle.


Do you still need your psychiatric diagnosis? This book will help you to decide. A revolution is underway in mental health. If the authors of the diagnostic manuals are admitting that psychiatric diagnoses are not supported by evidence, then no one should be forced to accept them. If many mental health workers are openly questioning diagnosis and saying we need a different and better system, then service users and carers should be allowed to do so too. This book is about choice. It is about giving people the information to make up their own minds, and exploring alternatives for those who wish to do so.

Book: A Straight Talking Introduction to the Power Threat Meaning Framework: An Alternative to Psychiatric Diagnosis

Book Title:

A Straight Talking Introduction to the Power Threat Meaning Framework: An Alternative to Psychiatric Diagnosis (The Straight Talking Introduction Series).

Author(s): Mary Boyle and Lucy Johnstone.

Year: 2020.

Edition: First (1st).

Publisher: PCCS Books.

Type(s): Paperback and Kindle.


The current mainstream way of describing psychological and emotional distress assumes it is the result of medical illnesses that need diagnosing and treating. This book summarises a powerful alternative to psychiatric diagnosis that asks not ‘What’s wrong with you?’ but ‘What’s happened to you?’ The Power Threat Meaning Framework (PTMF) was co-produced by a core group of psychologists and service users and launched in 2018, prompting considerable interest in the UK and worldwide. It argues that emotional distress, unusual experiences and many forms of troubled or troubling behaviour are understandable when viewed in the context of a person’s life and circumstances, the cultural and social norms we are expected to live up to and the degree to which we are exposed to trauma, abuse, injustice and inequality. The PTMF offers all of us the tools to create new, hopeful narratives about the reasons for our distress that are not based on psychiatric diagnosis and to find ways forward as individuals, families, social groups and whole societies.

What Does the Czech Republic Spend on Mental Health Care, and Where?

Research Paper Title

Expenditures on Mental Health Care in the Czech Republic in 2015.


Expenditures on mental health care in the Czech Republic are not being published regularly, yet they are indispensable for evaluation of the ongoing reform of Czech mental health care.

The main objective of this study is to estimate the size of these expenditures in 2015 and make a comparison with the last available figures from the year 2006.


The estimation is based on an OECD methodology of health accounts, which structures health care expenditures according to health care functions, provider industries, and payers.

The expenditures are further decomposed according to diagnoses, and inputs used in service production.


The amount spent on mental health care in 2015 reached more than 13.7 billion Czech korunas (EUR 501.6 million), which represented 4.08% of the total health care expenditures.

This ratio is almost identical with the 2006 share (4.14%).

There are no significant changes in the relative expenditures on mental health care and in the structure of service provision.


The Czech mental health care system remains largely hospital based with most of all mental health care expenditures being spent on inpatient care.

Future developments in the expenditures will indicate the success of the current effort to deinstitutionalise mental health care.


Broulikova, H.M., Dlouhy, M. & Winkler, P. (2020) Expenditures on Mental Health Care in the Czech Republic in 2015. The Psychiatric Quarterly. 91(1), pp.113-125. doi: 10.1007/s11126-019-09688-3.

Identifying Mental Illness

Mental illness cannot always be clearly differentiated from normal behaviour.

For example, distinguishing normal bereavement from depression may be difficult in people who have had a significant loss, such as the death of a spouse or child, because both involve sadness and a depressed mood.

In the same manner, deciding whether a diagnosis of anxiety disorder applies to people who are worried and stressed about work can be challenging because most people experience these feelings at some time.

The line between having certain personality traits and having a personality disorder can be blurry.

Thus, mental illness and mental health are best thought of as being on a continuum.

Any dividing line is usually based on the following:

  • How severe the symptoms are;
  • How long symptoms last; and
  • How much symptoms affect the ability to function in daily life.