Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Thirty percent of really liberal people have a history of mental illness: The 4th makes me think of politics, and politics makes me think of liberals, and it occurs to me that I haven't taken a jab at them in months. Using General Social Survey data, I did a cross-tabulation of political orientation and a history of mental illness. Here are the results:

Percent having had a mental illness

Extremely liberal 30.0
Liberal 11.5
Slightly liberal 12.1
Moderate 4.7
Slightly conservative 7.8
Conservative 5.6
Extremely conservative 5.1

Hmmm. I seem to vaguely recall a whole body of scholarship claiming that conservatism is a symptom of mental illness. It looks like the "liberalism is a mental disorder" rants by Michael Savage are closer to the truth.

Liberal scholars neglected the obvious way to see if there was a connection between political orientation and mental problems: ask people their political orientation and ask them if they have had a mental problem.

One possible link is being neurotic: I can see the Woody Allen type on the couch, riddled with a long list of insecurities, anxieties, and feelings of guilt. Government serves as Dominatrix, pleasing masochistic tendencies through high taxation, affirmative action, and the like. Maybe mentally ill people just want their SSI checks increased. Whatever the case, psychiatric disorders are common among really liberal people.

But let me anticipate comments by liberals passing through: only liberals are sufficiently self-aware to admit they are sick.


  1. Anonymous3:24 PM

    They know they are ill because the voices in their heads tell them so.

  2. Hmm, that table of group percentages who suffer mental illness is interesting. I have decided to stop taking precautions against Conservative Christian Jihad.

    Instead, I shall watch anyone I suspect is a member of People For the American way with a suspicious eye. You never know when one of those ticking time bombs just might go off.

  3. It would be interesting, if possible, to break it down by specific mental illness.

  4. Anonymous10:03 AM

    This is because Liberals want other people to solve their problems, and Conservatives want to solve their problems by themselves. Thus Liberals are much more likely to seek mental health help.

  5. Unless "mental illness" is specified, I don't think this means much, other than that pretending to be depressed, or at least emphasizing how depressed one tends to be, has been a liberal elite fashion statement after Freud. I think that's dying down somewhat, though.

    Now, if they're talking schizophrenia, epilepsy, etc., then that's another thing.

  6. Anonymous5:29 PM

    Generally, other data shows that republicans are happier, and that conservatism is associated with church attendence, which is in turn an important predictor of mental health. Conservatives also tend not to live in urban areas; where people have higher levels of mental illness.

    Just some related data.

    Still, conservatism is probably mentally healthier since it sees people as fundamentally responsible for their own lives, rather than as victims of social problems.

  7. Anonymous5:31 PM

    Maybe the bias lies in how extreme liberals and extreme conservatives tend to describe themselves.

    I think a better way to do this would be to ask people to rate where they stand on gun control, the death penalty, and abortion on a scale from 1 to 10.

    Also, instead of asking them if they've ever had a mental problem (which can lead to the same kind of ambiguity), why not ask if they've ever been hospitalized for a psychiatric problem.

  8. Anonymous5:35 PM

    Liberals can give me sudden bouts of Tourette's.

  9. Anonymous10:03 AM

    If you're looking at the EVMHP variable vs POLVIEWS, there is a sample size of only 20 "Extremely Liberal" respondents, and this is not enough of a sample size to mean anything.

    There does seem to be statistically significant difference between liberal and conservative, but the question is "Have you ever felt you had a mental health problem?" so there's no way of knowing if liberals really have more mental health problems, or if they just PERCEIVE themselves that way.

    Conservatives probably come from an environment where it's less acceptable to admit to such problems.

  10. Anonymous10:13 AM

    Compare EVMHP to variables of economic political views like SETPRICE, CUTGOVT, etc.

    It seems like more "conservative" economic views equals a GREATER likelihood to admit to mental health problems.

    The OPPOSITE the conclusion you get using POLVIEWS.

    What's happening here is that lower IQ (WORDSUM) and greater religiosity both equal a lesser likelihood to admit to mental health problems.

  11. Half Sigma: The confidence levels tells us that, based on a sample of 20, we can be 95% sure that the true percent of "extrememly liberal" that report mental illnes is between 11.1% and 48.9%. A high number is consistent with the overall pattern.

    And you're right: we simply don't know how much of the answers are subjective and how much are objective. I usually just report what is said and interpret it at face value. Apart from the comparisons, that somewhere between 11% and 49% say they have been mentally ill is striking.

    1. A sample group of 20? How the fuck is your results statistically significant based on a sample group of 20 persons?

  12. It doesn't surprise me so much as learning that the same is not true for the right end of the spectrum as well. I've known plenty of conspiracy theory, end-of-the-world nuts who were right wingers. Of course, I spent most of my life in Utah and there's a certain eschatalogical strain running through LDS society.

  13. kingm: Keep in mind that there is a difference between eccentric and certifiable. Oliver Stone is a conspiracy theorist, but his high level of functioning shows he's not nuts.

    I will say that psychotics are more likely to not recognize their illness than neurotics.

  14. Anonymous4:51 PM

    Thanks for article!

  15. Anonymous2:42 AM

    Thanks for interesting article.

  16. Anonymous3:50 PM

    Excellent website. Good work. Very useful. I will bookmark!

  17. It's not irrational for people who suffer problems that make them less effectual in the marketplace to favor redistribution.

  18. People on the far left are much more likely to seek out psychiatric help than people on the far right. This will result in people on the left being more likely to be diagnosed with mental illness than people on the right, all other things being equal. Several conservatives I know show clear signs of psychosis but refuse to see a mental health professional, whereas everyone who is more on the left end of the spectrum I know is willing to go to see psychiatrists.

    There's also issues of self identification - people on the right tend to be more private about such things, which would result in a lower response rate because they simply don't feel comfortable telling someone on the phone that they have a mental illness.

    Another issue is that liberalism isn't the same thing as leftism, and I've noticed that people who are highly libertarian tend to be much nuttier than ACLU style liberals, whereas socialists tend to often be nuts as well. This is despite the fact that libertarian views and socialism are diametrically opposed.

    As such, I'm not sure if "liberalism" is really a meaningful metric in this regard.

    A better way of looking at it would be to see if there is a correlation between particular points of view (support for freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of religion, lower or higher taxes, abortion, ect.) and mental illness.


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