Nobody really even uses the term "insane" anymore, at least with

regards to emotional dysfunction. Even the "insanity defense" is
referring to specific criteria regarding whether a person was
aware of their actions at the time that a crime took place. It's
actually not used that often, as it is sometimes takes even longer
for a person to get out of a mental institution than their original
prison sentence.

Usually people use the term "insane" to refer to more severe
levels of psychopathology, such as schizophrenia. A diagnostic
system exists to help categorize symptoms that a person might
be experiencing. This system is used primarily for assessment
and treatment planning, rather than to distinguish between
"sane" and "insane." The popular culture tends to think of people
in these very dichotomous terms, mostly for the sake of
simplicity. It reminds me of the Simpsons episode where Homer
ends up in a mental hospital and receives a "insane" stamp on his
hand. Once he leaves the hospital, he is presented with a
certificate of his sanity.

Using these types of terms fails to appreciate the complexity of
the psyche within the particular environmental context that the
person may be in. For instance, certain rituals that may be
deemed "insane" by individuals in one society may be perfectly
normal in another.


Emotional and physical well-being, as someone else pointed out,
seems to approximate what most people mean by the term
"sane." However, even this has a subjective aspect to it. What
defines "well-being." The current diagnostic systems consider the
impact that particular symptoms are having on a person's life. In
order for a person to receive a formal diagnosis of a particular
mental disorder, the symptoms must interfere in their life or
result in significant distress. But even this does not define
"sanity" as a person could be functioning exceptionally well in
some areas, but not in others. Given the prevelance of anxiety
and depressive disorders, most of the population would be
considered "insane." Once again, this term provides little
information.

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