While mental illness and melodrama go well together in fiction, they are, one likes to believe, poles apart in real life. For instance, the sordid events described by Gore Vidal in Washington, D.C.,1 in which a callous newspaper baron seeks to further the political career of his promising son-in-law by having his own daughter committed forcibly to a mental institution, could scarcely take place outside the pages of a novel. Vidal has the director of the mental home sign a false certification in return for some unspecified bribe, further extending the fantasy.
And yet a recent article in the Lancet2 reporting the cases of three patients admitted to a psychiatric hospital on trumped-up evidence of mental disorder suggests that the line dividing fact from fiction may not be as sharp as is generally thought. In these instances there was certainly no malpractice on the part of the doctors