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Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.
—A phrase (usually misattributed to Einstein) used by politicians and reporters over and over again.
And if the dam breaks open many years too soon

And if there is no room upon the hill And if your head explodes with dark forebodings too

I'll see you on the dark side of the moon
—Pink Floyd [1]

Insanity, when used properly in the fields of psychology, medicine, and law, is recognised as a behavior which displays beliefs or actions that fall outside of the "normal" recognition of society. Such actions can cause the person performing them to become a danger to themself or others. The term insanity is more frequently used in an incorrect form, often used in lieu of "abnormal", "unusual", or "crazy."

Legal and medical insanity[edit]

Despite popular misconceptions, "insanity" is obsolete as a medical term.[2] The former usage of "insanity" did encompass disorders ranging from delusions to schizophrenia. The main usage for insanity is legal, and denotes defendants who plead that they were incapable of understanding or controlling their actions at the time they committed the crime.[citation needed] This plea is, again, despite popular perception, rarely used. Officially, the American Medical Association disapproves of the usage of the insanity defense, but the defense has only been outlawed in three states (in order, Utah, Montana, and Idaho).[citation needed][3]

In England and Wales, the rules governing criminal insanity still come from the 1843 House of Lords decision in M'Naghten. They ruled that:

the jurors ought to be told in all cases that every man is to be presumed to be sane, and to possess a sufficient degree of reason to be responsible for his crimes, until the contrary be proved to their satisfaction; and that to establish a defence on the ground of insanity, it must be clearly proved that, at the time of the committing of the act, the party accused was labouring under such a defect of reason, from disease of the mind, as not to know the nature and quality of the act he was doing; or, if he did know it, that he did not know he was doing what was wrong.

Contrary to popular opinion, claiming insanity as a defence in court isn't a terribly good idea. First off, it's not a defence, it's a special plea of "not guilty by reason of insanity". And second, the usual result is that you get sent to a secure mental hospital forever.[4] This is why it's always good to get your own lawyer rather than defending yourself and relying on old episodes of LA Law.


  2. The Free Dictionary
  4. s5 of the Criminal Procedure (Insanity) Act 1968 allows courts to impose a hospital order on those found not guilty by reason of insanity, and Sch 1 s2 Criminal Procedure (Insanity and Unfitness to Plead) Act 1991 allows this to be almost indefinite. Whilst community-based options are available, restriction and hospital orders still form roughly half of all disposals for those found not guilty by reason of insanity. See RD Mackay, 'Ten more years of the insanity defence' (2012) 12 CLR 946.