Ask Doctor Shrink

Do you have questions about psychiatry – your own or that of your weird family members? Send your question to Doctor Shrink for a scientific answer.
Q: Does modern psychiatry recognize such a thing as group insanity?
A: It does. Nearly all abnormal mental conditions of individuals can also afflict groups.
Q: If a group or organization of some sort behaves insanely, does this mean that all or most of the members of that group are insane?
A: Not at all. Think of the parallel with an insane individual. He or she has a brain, most of whose parts operate quite normally, as far as anyone else can tell. The person might function quite normally in most circumstances, but then one day they kill you and themselves with a bomb, or they tell you that they are in contact with UFOs that want the human race to migrate to another galaxy.
Most of that person’s brain has been operating normally. It only takes a small part to go wrong – maybe it’s only a bad connection between parts that are all functioning as they should – and then the person becomes insane, a danger to themselves and to other people.
Similarly, it is possible for groups or geopolitical entities, most of whose inhabitants are quite sane, to display psychotic behavior in their relationships with the rest of the world.
Q: Can group insanity be cured by psychiatry?
A: It’s difficult or impossible to get all the members of a bridge club – let alone a neighborhood or a country – onto a psychiatrist’s couch. Treatment requires a change in the social environment of the group in question.

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