Wednesday, August 24, 2011

A First-Rate Madness: Uncovering the Links Between Leadership and Mental Illness by Nassir Ghaemi Review

A First-Rate Madness: Uncovering the Links Between Leadership and Mental IllnessA First-Rate Madness: Uncovering the Links Between Leadership and Mental Illness by Nassir Ghaemi

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

My take: Who writes history? Those who control the media and the winners of any conflict. This is a summary of some of history's greatest and worst leaders. It reads much like a dissertation only without statistical data to support the hypothesis but plenty of anecdotal which is soft data. The author asserts that the best leaders in war and other stress, were on the bipolar spectrum. The worst leaders under stress were mentally stable.

Many of the examples used are self-proclaimed sufferers of depression or other mood disorder. Others suffered from a physical malady which, when treated medically, led to an unstable mood. Or a sexually transmitted disease which produced an atypical mood. At any rate, the author suggests that a depressed person is more likely to exhibit realism, a manic person has enhanced creativity and a depressed person feels more empathy. I agree to some degree that this is true, only I wouldn't put these people directly on the mental illness scale. An awake person expresses greater creativity while a depressed poet produces depressing poetry which is not in a manic stage. A person who has experienced life, not necessarily depression, might already know they don't control the world but how they react to circumstances.

A few months ago I read "The Psychopath Test" which empowered those trained in this checklist to diagnose a psychopath. In short order, the checklist qualified most of the population as exhibiting psychopathic personalities. As a graduate student in psychology, I read my new DSM III-R and diagnosed myself with no less than 58 psychological disorders. Once informed of the uses of the DSM and realizing it is only the extremes that interfere with regular interactions and work, my list dropped to only two. One when I wasn't PMS-ing.

It is much easier to find episodic personality traits and pigeon-hole a historical leader into a mental illness, especially if that person is dead and unable to refute the diagnosis. It is also known that psychiatry and psychology is a soft science. Not that I don't respect the field because I do. On the other hand, the new "in" diagnosis is Pervasive Developmental Disorder or the Autism Spectrum. Now all the quirky kids who have a less than ideal awareness of social appropriate behavior can be shoved onto this broad spectrum and receive a 504 plan excusing angry outbursts at school rather than accepting consequences for acting out and hurting other children. Ten years ago, these same children were being diagnosed with anxiety and depression and treatment reflected that diagnosis.

The author's hypothesis is an interesting one but left me feeling like the hypothesis was not settled. My belief is that mood disorders or mental instability is not a good predictor of leadership skills. I didn't see the connection as the author presented the information. I wanted to be convinced with hard evidence but instead, I was underwhelmed.


Anonymous said...

It's unfortunate that the author didn't include enough details to convince you of his theory - it is certainly an interesting theory to consider!

Thanks for being a part of the tour.

Amanda said...

Oh interesting! I bet this was definitely an interesting read, what with your psychology background.

I just finished reading and posting for TLC Tours and I thought he might be one to something with the realism, creativity, etc part but yeah - the proof was a bit lacking. For instance, what did you think of Ghandi and Dr King's suicide attempts? I thought the last chapter was pretty weak too. Out of ALL the leaders during crisis he picked Bush and Blair - ok I get that...but the psychoanalysis of Bush was VERY weak. In fact I couldn't help finding comparisons between Bush and JFK's upbringing and I would compare Vietnam to Afghanistan and Iraq rather than the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Ok. I'll stop blabbing. Great review!