Martha Mitchell effect
The Martha Mitchell effect refers to the process by which a psychiatrist, psychologist, mental health clinician, or other medical professional labels a patient's accurate perception of real events as delusional, resulting in misdiagnosis.
According to Bell et al., "Sometimes, improbable reports are erroneously assumed to be symptoms of mental illness (Maher, 1998)", due to a "failure or inability to verify whether the events have actually taken place, no matter how improbable intuitively they might appear to the busy clinician".
Examples of such situations are:
- Pursuit by organized criminals
- Surveillance by law enforcement officers
- Infidelity by a spouse
- Physical issues
Quoting psychotherapist Joseph Berke, the authors report that, "even paranoids have enemies". Delusions are "abnormal beliefs" and may be bizarre (considered impossible to be true), or non-bizarre (possible, but considered by the clinician as highly improbable). Beliefs about being poisoned, followed, marital infidelity or a conspiracy in the workplace are examples of non-bizarre beliefs that may be considered delusions. Any patient can be misdiagnosed by clinicians, especially patients with a history of paranoid delusions.
Patients may be diagnosed as delusional when their grievances concern health care workers and/or health care institutions, even when the patient has no history of delusion. "A patient arriving claiming to have been injured by another health care professional is regarded as a crazy person who potentially could ruin the career of an innocent colleague."[unreliable source?]
Psychologist Brendan Maher named the effect after Martha Mitchell. Mitchell was the wife of John Mitchell, United States Attorney General in the Nixon administration. When she alleged that White House officials were engaged in illegal activities, her claims were attributed to mental illness. Ultimately, however, the facts of the Watergate scandal vindicated her and garnered her the label "The Cassandra of Watergate".
Although it has been stated that many of her allegations remain unproved, such as her claim that she had been drugged and put under guard during a visit to California after her husband was summoned back to Washington, D.C., in order to prevent her from leaving the hotel or making phone calls to the news media, James McCord admitted in 1975 that her story was true, as reported in The New York Times. More evidence supporting that Martha was telling the truth was published in a 2017 news article in Newsweek about the appointment of a U.S. ambassador.
- Adrian Schoolcraft
- Argument from ignorance – Logical fallacy that, since proposition has not yet been proven false, it must be true
- Cassandra (metaphor) – Metaphor originating from Greek mythology
- False memory – Psychological phenomenon
- Gaslighting – Psychological manipulation via being made to question one's own judgment
- Goldwater rule – Rule governing how psychiatrists may give opinions on public figures
- Psychosis – Condition of the mind that involves a loss of contact with reality
- Rosenhan experiment – Experiment to determine the validity of psychiatric diagnosis
- Rosemary's Baby
- Coleman, A. (2015). A Dictionary of Psychology. p441.
- Alexander, G. J. (1996). International Human Rights Protection Against Psychiatric Political Abuses. Santa Clara L. Rev., 37, 387.
- Bell, Vaughan; Halligan, Peter; Ellis, Hadyn D. (August 2003). "Beliefs about delusions" (PDF). Psychologist. 16: 418–422. ISSN 0952-8229.
- "Blacklisting Patients". patient-safety.com. Retrieved 2020-07-09.
- Maher, Brendan A. (1988) "Anomalous Experience and Delusional Thinking: The Logic of Explanations". In T. Oltmanns and B. Maher (eds) Delusional Beliefs. New York: Wiley Interscience
- Reeves, Richard President Nixon: Alone in the White House, p. 511