Madness and Misery



Language has the power to form and shape the way we think and that is the reason why when we hear words like madness, what immediately comes to mind is a chaotic and ´´severe unwieldiness´´ of mind that produces bizarre and ´´out of the ordinary´´ behavior. The same applies for the world misery that can be defined as a state of unhappiness, despair and distress.

Both of these meanings are closely correlated to the beliefs of the Greek culture, even though their meanings have changed drastically through the course of history. According to the ancient Greeks, the ´´demon´´ was believed to be a ´´divine gift´´ that only few possessed, such as poets, priests, philosophers etc, and through that they could communicate with the Gods and spread their words. Specifically, Plato believed that ´´madness provided it comes as a gift of heaven, is the channel by which we receive the greatest blessings…… madness comes from God, whereas sober sense is merely human´´. In addition, Aristotle believed that extraordinary talent could be a characteristic of melancholic individuals that as a result could achieve tremendous creativity. Having said that, today the Greek culture has embraced the western way of living and as a result its beliefs. Mental health issues, such as madness and misery are negatively stereotyped and viewed as bizarre, strange and out of the ordinary; however, the health sector is trying to inform and educate people about mental health issues and things slowly are shifting.

Depending on the background/culture, there are people that question the universality of the meaning of words like madness or misery, as it may have different meanings in different cultures. Besides, we shape our ´´theories of reality´´ based on our social forces´´. Thus, according to Pilgrim, madness in our culture may have a negative meaning, whereas in other cultures may be considered as a ´´supernatural gift´´ or a ´´religious experience invoked by sin´´. Moreover, the word misery or sadness may have a universal applicability; however, according to Pilgrim, the problem arises when ´´these expressions of distress are reified or codified using western medical labels´´. As a result, we all have to be very cautious and aware of the cultural differences, especially when interacting with people with different cultural beliefs/backgrounds.

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