If we’re talking about someone who thinks they’re trying to kill him, that the police have their phone bugged, or who knows a truth that other people want to cover up, it’s easy to think so. someone with some kind of delusional disorder.
But sometimes some of these people tell something real that ends up being mistakenly seen as a product of the mind and the imagination. We are talking about cases where this has happened the Martha Mitchell effect, The name is based on a true story.
Delirium in psychopathology
To fully understand the Martha Mitchell effect, one must first think about what an illusion is.
Delirium is one of the most studied symptoms with regard to the psychopathology part of the content of thought. It is understood as such that one or these false or improbable idea or beliefs which the subject maintains with complete conviction, even if the evidence may be against him.
Fill extravagant ideas and beliefs, Supported by the subject with great vehemence, experienced as true and unchanging which causes great discomfort and anguish in the individual.
The contents of delirium are important, because they are closely related at the symbolic level to the fears and life experiences of the patient, as well as to the cultural aspects that influenced him to have a certain mentality. Some examples include the idea to be persecuted or controlled, That the phenomena that occur are directed at the subject, that our partner is unfaithful to us, that someone is totally in love with us, that we have deformities or that we are dead and decaying or that those around us are impostors who claim to be for our fellow human beings.
Where does the delirium come from?
Why delusions arise is something that still does not have a clear answer. However, some of the main assumptions indicate that it is a cognitive and more or less structured elaboration which seeks to respond to an abnormal perception. The cognitive process that those who suffer from it can be biased, but it can also be normal.
This means that in some cases, drawing a line between the real and the delusional can be more complex than it appears. And it is that although their characteristics are generally visible and strange from the outside, the truth is that if the facts are observed from the perception of the subject, they can have coherence and logic (After all, it’s not impossible for someone to watch over us to steal from us or be unfaithful to us, for example). This is why it is sometimes possible to identify a real fact as a delusion. This is what happens in what is known as the Martha Mitchell effect.
The Martha Mitchell effect
Martha Mitchell is understood as a situation in which professionals in psychology and / or psychiatry come to the conclusion that a specific patient-related event is the product of an illusion or altered state of consciousness, this event being true.
The events in question generally refer to events with a low probability of occurrence, implausible and with a high level of improbability, little shared by the social environment and emphasizing the perception of the phenomenon as something self-referential and directed towards the person himself. Clear examples of this are the idea of being chased by criminal gangs, being under surveillance by the government, or having very important information that someone wants to suppress.
Martha Mitchell and the Watergate Affair
The name of this effect is based on a real case. Martha Mitchell was the wife of Attorney General John Mitchell, in the time of Richard Nixon. He was also a campaign assistant. This woman was well known in her day for her unstable personality, frequent outbursts of dial tone, and a suspected problem with alcohol consumption.
Martha Mitchell has also repeatedly denounced various irregularities produced by the administration, including corruption and allegations such as espionage. However, his claims were ignored as he was considered delusional or suffering from another mental illness.
Some time later the Watergate scandal would be revealed. Everyone who had humiliated Martha by trying to stigmatize her with the weight of mental illness had clearly made a mistake. While some of the irregularities he mentioned have not been proven, many of the corruptions that were mistaken for delusions or even attempts to attract attention turned out to have a real basis.
Why is this happening?
The reasons why the Martha Mitchell effect occurs are mainly its resemblance to delusions: the reported facts are implausible and often refer to aspects that are difficult to assess objectively.
Outraged, this misdiagnosis is more likely to be achieved if the person in question has certain characteristics that make them more likely to be a delusional perception or interpretation of reality.
For example, a person with a previously diagnosed psychotic disorder, a person who has suffered from delusions in the past, a subject with a histrionic personality, or a person dependent on substances with hallucinogenic effects. These are aspects which favor that, in principle, harmless facts can be treated in a distorted manner.