Being Sane in an Insane Place 4 pages Essay

Sane in a Insane Place

Being Sane in an Insane Place

This paper reflects the article, “On Being Sane in Insane Places” by David.L. Roshenhan. As the name suggests, it describes an experiment and research done in an insane place by a group of sane people. Beside this, it is based on two important theories of sociology, which are medicalization theory and the labeling theory. Both of the theories are based on the view of deviance. The labeling theory suggests the reason of a deviant behavior of a person, which is caused by certain labels imposed by the society in which he lives. On the other hand, the medicalization theory suggests that rather than being evil, people are sick and the label “sick,” sticks with the person and results in a deviant behavior.


This article lays emphasis on a number of terms like mental illness, sanity, schizophrenia, insanity etc. It is based on a question that people easily distinguishes an abnormal from a normal and an insane from a sane, but are the results always reliable or no? Though some researchers say that there are some symptoms based on which they distinguish an insane from a sane, but this view of the psychologists has been greatly criticized.

In addition to this, the article provides an experiment which proves that psychological diagnosis can be misleading and can be very harmful for the patients because they are not accurate every time. The results and interpretation of the experiment is made on the labeling theory and medicalization theory. Eight people who were sane and got admitted in a variety of hospitals did the experiment. Their sanity was a secret and they reacted as pseudo patients in their respective hospitals. They kept themselves admitted in the hospital for several days, observed every single moment of the hospital, wrote about the behavior of doctors and nurses, and mingled with the other patients. The alarming thing is that in every hospital, these pseudo patients were diagnosed as the patients of schizophrenia but in actual they were sane people. They just willingly changed their behavior sometimes in front of the staff in order to see their reaction as well as interpretation. However, the duration of this change in behavior was negligible. Most of the time they reacted as normal and talked normally with the other patients in their wards. However, the main thing to be noted is that they were diagnosed as schizophrenic patients instead of being sane. The reason behind it is the labeling theory of sociology (Rosenhan, 1973).

The doctors in all almost all the psychiatric hospitals imposed labels on those eight pseudo patients rather than doing a detailed analysis and diagnosis of them. They just asked some routine questions and some questions related to their history and easily made interpretation that they were schizophrenic patients. This is the condition of each psychiatric hospital that doctors, which are though educated, impose labels on the patients through their quick judgments and interpretations.

This experiment is purely based on the labeling theory as the doctors who were working in the psychiatric hospitals and dealing with the psychiatric patients for years, get used to of it and thus considers every patient (though pseudo patient) as a psychiatric patient.

On the other hand, another reason for the wrong interpretation of the pseudo patients was the behavior and relationship between the psychiatrist, nurses and the patient. As it is mentioned in the article that the psychiatrist who is supposed to make a final interpretation regarding the patient, spends only some moments with the patients. During the experiment, it also happened that some days the pseudo patients were not even able to see the psychiatrist in their ward. Mostly, the patients were able to see the psychiatrist only when he enters and leaves the hospital. Not only is this, but other members of the staff also had very bad behavior with the patients. The members of the staff were busy in their own issues mist of the time and no special attention and care was given to the patients. As compared with other patients like patients of cancer, tumor etc., psychiatric patients needs more attention and care because mental satisfaction and happiness is very essential for them. However, it seemed as if the psychiatric hospitals were unaware of this fact. The pseudo patients observed that the staff members had a frustrated attitude with them and they felt as if they have no value in the hospitals (Rosenhan, 1973).

A feeling of living in a cave developed in them while living in the hospitals’ ward. The pseudo patients reported that rather than being friendly with them, the staff sometimes did unethical activities in front of them. Beside this, the nurse, who came to wake up the psychiatric patients in the morning also had harsh attitude with them. Getting subject to such negative attitude, the pseudo patients noticed that patients become so dishearten. They need some motivation in preceding their therapy and taking their medicines regularly but the case is opposite. Rather than motivation, they are treated with harsh attitude and because of this fact the pseudo patients observed that many patients drain their tablets in the hospital toilets secretly. There is a possibility that some staff members are aware of this act of the patients but they did not take any action regarding it and left it unnoticed.

In addition to this, patients developed a feeling that in spite of the fact that they were brought over here for care, they have no value in the hospital. The conditions were so miserable that if a patient wants to discuss something with the doctor, he was unable to do so because the doctor only visits him for five to six minutes. Since the patient notice that no value is being given to him by the doctor, he feels shy in discussing his matters with the doctor.

Beside this, some studies even reported that the nurse slapped the patient for asking a question. This is the condition of every psychiatric hospital.

The main in the whole article is that psychiatric hospitals do not give proper attention to the patients. They even make matters worse by insulting the patients in front of other patients and giving no value to them. They just impose labels of mental illness on the patients without proper analyzing them and due to this reason, a person who is normal, and just visited the psychiatrist due to temporary stress is labeled as a patient of mental illness. After being labeled, the person actually starts feeling as a mentally ill human being. Not only is this, but the other members of the society also regard these labeled persons as mentally ill and due to these reasons such persons get deprived of some of their rights (Rosenhan, 1973).

After being admitted in the hospitals, they even become more ill due to the negative and harsh attitude of the staff members, and in this way a wrong label by a psychiatrist can completely spoil a life of anyone.


In my opinion the psychiatric hospitals themselves develop a surrounding in which distinguishing between a sane from an insane becomes difficult. If proper attention is given to each patient, they can easily recover and it is the duty of every psychiatrist to do a detail analysis of the patient before labeling him as schizophrenic or an insane.


Rosenhan, D.L. (1973). On Being Sane in Insane Places. Science, 250-258.

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