When I was concluding my reading of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, I found myself wondering about the process of diagnosing mental illness and how that can relate to social and cultural norms which could impact our view of people who contradict those “norms”. I was first drawn to this idea when reading through the section when McMurphy is returned to the ward as is described saying “The ward door opened, and the black boys wheeled in this Gurney with a chart at the bottom that said in heavy black letters, McMurphy, Randle P. Post-Operative. And below this was written in ink, Lobotomy” (278). After all of his time rebelling against the system Nurse Ratched developed in the hospital, he lashed out and in a sense took the power away from Nurse Ratched for a moment and that led him to be lobotomized. In fact, all of the “treatments” received by the patients follow acts of rebellion against the psychiatric system they are all trapped in. This led me to consider that perhaps they are receiving these treatments merely because they are not adhering to the system and their non-conformity is considered the stem of their mental illness.
The concept seemed intriguing to me and I considered if perhaps our diagnosis of what we perceive as mental illness could be considered a mere reluctance to adhere to the social standards and regulations of society. Harding is a prime example of misdiagnosis in the novel because he is not, in fact, mentally ill, but merely does not adhere to the societal norms of the time because of his homosexuality and is therefore institutionalized for being different. When I decided to look further into this concept outside of the novel I found an article entitled “Defining Normal: Constructions of Race and Gender in the DSM-IV Casebook” in which this idea is described stating
“Social constructionists contend that the discourse
on mental illness that guides psychological theory and practice, and thus
the diagnostic categories presented in the DSM-IV, are shaped by 1) definitions
of ‘normal’ that stem from a partial and elite perspective, and 2) stereotypical
notions of gender, race/ethnicity and sexuality.” (2).
Social constructionist theories apply easily to the novel as it is clearly portrayed that those who are not identified as “normal” in society are institutionalized and labeled as mentally ill. When McMurphy challenged the rules of society in the institution, it became attributed to his “mental illness” and consequently he was given “treatments” which to the patients are viewed as punishment for not following the rules.
Billy is another excellent example of misdiagnosis as he is institutionalized due to his immature nature and stutter which can both be attributed to an inability to conform to gender norms at the time. Viewing his diagnosis from a social constructionist point of view, Billy was institutionalized due to his lack of masculinity which is expected of men, just as Harding is institutionalized for his sexuality. Both characters do not conform to the gender norms and sexual norms of society and therefore are considered mentally ill.
Cermele, Jill A., Sharon Daniels, and Kristin L. Anderson. Defining Normal: Constructions of Race and Gender in the DSM-IV Casebook. , 2001. Accessed 31 Oct. 2016. fap.sagepub.com/content/11/2/229.short