JAMA 100 Years Ago Section Editor: Jennifer Reiling, Assistant Editor.
A London physician, Dr. Forbes Winslow, is the alleged authority for the statement that the world is going mad and that if the present rate of increase of insanity continues, as it seems likely to, the sane individual will soon be the exception and not the rule. He is said to support his opinion by statistics, but statistics are sometimes queer things. It will be remembered that Mark Twain once figured out that at the rate of shortening the Mississippi was undergoing, according to statistics, the cities of New Orleans and St. Louis were bound to be united, and it may be that insanity statistics can be used in the same way. We should be rather inclined to think that the world is growing saner, that its standards of sanity, as well as of morals and other things, are becoming more exacting, and that the great apparent increase of mental disorders can be accounted for, at least in part, by this fact. We recognize and segregate the insane more than ever before and have shifted a not inconsiderable number of those who were formerly regarded as simply criminals, and punished as such, into this category. It is the more general recognition of the exceptional character of insanity that helps to make its apparent increase the more noticeable. That there is an increase in the number of the insane can not be denied; the crowding into cities, with the consequent greater stress of life and other abnormal social conditions, are probably largely responsible, and in this country we have, in addition, the disturbing factor of immigration which is responsible for a large proportion of the population of our asylums. We may be overdoing the matter in the present phases of our social progress, but we may feel reasonably sure that an acceptable equilibrium will be reached before things get to the worst. Even now there are communities in which the increase has apparently come to a standstill. Insanity is a problem of the day, but it is not so much of one as the alarmists would have us believe.
THE ALLEGED INCREASE OF INSANITY.. JAMA. 2006;296(16):2037. doi:10.1001/jama.296.16.2037-b