Memoir of Madness

Extra Credit Opportunity for Spring 2019

Students of Abnormal Psychology may opt to earn extra credit for the Spring 2019 semester by writing a paper meeting the criteria described below.

Subject matter: Students will select a fictional or historical character, drawn from outside the psychology curriculum, who they suspect either has a mental illness or has erroneously been diagnosed with a mental illness. This character may be encountered from ongoing classwork, previously completed classwork, casual reading, or from any publically available print source. They will then write a paper using DSM-5 to establish a presumed diagnosis or to critically reassess the presumably erroneous diagnosis. If you have difficulty selecting a subject, please see the accompanying bibliography below.

Required Information: After choosing a subject for the paper, the student will identify the mental illness diagnosed (or suspected) and will cite examples from the chosen text that demonstrate how the DSM-5 classification system may be appropriately applied to diagnose the illness or to refute the erroneous diagnosis. Not all examples from the text must be included, but included examples will be graded based on how well they fit DSM-5 criteria. All elements of the classification system must be included. Specifically, not only must the presence or absence of each DSM-5 symptom be noted, but all the rules for assigning subjects to a diagnosis must be included. Footnotes will be used to reference examples of symptoms from the chosen text and to reference symptom descriptions from the DSM-5 (the real DSM-5, not a list from your textbook or from a website – if you cannot get your hands on a DSM-5 in the library, come see me). Exclusionary criteria must be included, to the degree that an undergraduate student is able, though the student is not expected to have the expertise of a trained clinician. For example, in the criteria for unipolar depression, criterion C states that the symptoms are not better accounted for by physiological effects of a substance or a general medical condition. In addressing this criterion, the student does not need to research the physiological effects of substances or psychological effects of medical conditions. Another example is in the criteria for Persistent Depressive Disorder. Criterion F states that “the disturbance is not better explained by a persistent schizoaffective disorder, schizophrenia, delusional disorder, or other specified or unspecified schizophrenia spectrum and other psychotic disorder.” The student does not need to formally establish the presence or absence of all psychotic disorders to document this criterion, but should include a short statement concerning his reason for considering this criterion met.

In addition to documenting a specific mental illness in the subject (or the absence of an erroneously diagnosed one), the student will refer to the class textbook and note how each of the possible causes of the selected mental illness may contribute (or not) to the subject’s mental illness. For example, the text lists the following as possible causes for unipolar depression: genetics; alteration in norepinephrine, serotonin, melatonin, brain derived neurotropic factors, or cortisol; psychodynamic causes such as loss (real, symbolic, or imagined); behavioral causes such as loss of reward, increased punishment, or learned helplessness; cognitive causes such as maladaptive attitudes, errors in thinking, or automatic thoughts; and sociocultural factors such as gender, ethnicity, and level of social support. Each of these would be discussed citing examples from the chosen text.

Finally, the student will refer to the class textbook and discuss how various treatment methodologies might address the mental illness in the chosen subject. The student will address each of the treatment modalities mentioned in the class textbook, though if certain types of therapy do not seem appropriate for the chosen case, the student may note this and explain how the therapy does not apply.

Format: The extra credit assignment must be submitted on hard copy. The paper will be not less than two pages in length and will have the following form:

1) single spaced;

2) Times New Roman font, size 12;

3) all margins 1 inch;

4) first line of paragraphs indented 0.5 inches;

5) bibliography consisting of at least three references (chosen text, DSM-5, and class textbook); and

6) footnotes will be used to cite examples from bibliographic resources.

Grading: Any paper not formatted correctly, not footnoted correctly, or not based on an appropriate print source, will not be graded. Each paper may normally earn up to 10 points extra credit on the student’s final course grade. The grade will be determined based on the student’s skill in applying the classification system and on the completeness and quality of the discussion of causative factors and treatment methods. I reserve the right to award up to 5 additional points for papers that reflect outstanding writing skill (spelling, grammar, and style). For example, a paper that simply lists the symptoms, causes, and treatments of an illness will not earn any extra points (and will not likely earn a full 10 points). However, a paper that persuasively organizes facts and presents them in a manner that conveys their subject’s experience of the identified (or suspected) illness will likely earn the extra points.

If you want to maximize your points on this project, please take advantage of the Writing Center in the Learning Commons.

Deadline: All papers must be submitted by class time on April 16, 2019.

Bibliography: (You may use these books, though you are not required to. Referring to a book you have previously read or are currently reading may reduce your time demands.)

Cahalan, Susannah. Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness. New York: Free Press. 2012. (A young woman erroneously diagnosed with schizophrenia and ultimately diagnosed with anti-NMDA receptor autoimmune encephalitis (DSM-5 diagnosis of Psychotic Disorder Due to Anti-NMDA receptor autoimmune encephalitis).

Jamison, Kay Redfield. An Unquiet Mind. New York: Vintage Books, 1996. (Written by a mental health professional who both has and conducts research on bipolar disorder).

Nasar, Sylvia. A Beautiful Mind: A Biography of John Forbes Nash, Jr., Winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics. New York: Simon and Schuster. 1998. (A moving account of a brilliant mathematician and economist who develops a psychotic illness before winning a Nobel Prize for his work).

Saks, Elyn R. The Center Cannot Hold: My Journey Through Madness. New York: Hyperion. 2007. (A gifted law student develops schizophrenia, yet continues her struggle to achieve her professional and personal goals, ultimately becoming both a lawyer and psychoanalyst.)

Styron, William. Darkness Visible: A Memoir of Madness. New York: Vintage Books. 1990. (An eloquent description of an author’s depressive illness and his recovery).

For an example of the format for this paper, see the following:

Major Depression in William Styron’s Darkness Visible: A Memoir of Madness

In Darkness Visible, William Styron describes his descent into a major depressive disorder, his emotional distress leading to suicidal ideation, and the role of hospitalization in his eventual recovery. In order to establish the accuracy of his diagnosis, I will cite his symptoms and how they work together to demonstrate full expression of a major depressive episode.

According to Criterion A for Major Depressive Disorder in DSM-5, the subject must have at least five of nine specific depressive symptoms present over a two-week period, and these must represent a change from previous functioning[footnoteRef:1]. Furthermore, each of these symptoms (except for weight change and suicidality) must be present nearly every day[footnoteRef:2]. I will show that Mr. Styron easily meets this criterion by showing that he had all of these depressive symptoms, that they are clearly changes from his normal functioning, and that they persisted for several months. Mr. Styron notes that the symptoms of Major Depression he writes about started in June and resulted in hospitalization in December[footnoteRef:3]…. [1: DSM-5, Major Depressive Disorder, Criterion A, p. 160.] [2: DSM-5, Major Depressive Disorder, Diagnostic Features, p. 162.] [3: Styron, p. 40.]

Comer notes that one possible cause of unipolar depression (another name for Major Depressive Disorder) is the actual, symbolic, or imagined loss of a loved one[footnoteRef:4]…. [4: Comer, p. 251-253.]


American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition, Washington, D.C., American Psychiatric Association, 2013.

Comer, Ronald J. Abnormal Psychology, 8th Edition. New York: Worth Publishers, 2013.

Styron, William. Darkness Visible: A Memoir of Madness. New York: Vintage Books, 1990.

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