"That boy ain't right!" - What do I do when my opponent in an argument is mentally ill?

You don't see as many blog entries from me these days, partly because I'm more often commenting in an online forum or three - and partly because my time has become even more precious.  My new bride and I are often out and about, doing things.  Or at home we're crafting, designing, making things.  My life has taken a very positive turn, and my blog is suffering from it!

But I do write brief comments online, when I have a few minutes, and that invariably leads me to an occasional crazy person.

No, I don't mean the "normal" kind of crazy that some people get from indoctrination, or due to a conspiracy theory.

I mean that the person actually has some sort of psychosis. A true detachment from reality. Their replies can degenerate into "word salad", or worse - a self-cohesive structure that is true to itself, but has little or no connection to reality.

When I run into someone like this, I'm torn in how to respond to them. In many cases what they say makes enough sense to garner a reply - except for that one bit that it is all based upon, which is - frankly - insane or incomprehensible.

Suddenly these people stop being a conversational opponent, suddenly I see them as a "hurt puppy", lost and confused in a world that doesn't understand them.

So how to respond to these people? If I address their comment as-is, then I validate what I now recognize as some sort of psychotic break from reality. If I tell them that they're acting crazy... well, they've heard that before. Telling them that I hope they'll get better, or that they should seek professional help just makes me sound like a condescending jerk.

My response, more and more often, is to cease communicating with them. If they're on a public forum then I just don't respond to their replies. If they show up in my blog I don't publish their comments. (Rule 8 in my comment moderation policy)

Still, even a busted (analog) clock is right twice a day, and sometimes they will say something insightful, or stinging, and tempt me to respond. I'm torn here, because part of me wants to encourage these lucid comments with a response, like some sort of twisted positive reward system that will "train" them out of their mental illness.

It's a very frustrating thing. But I do debate online, and I run into this much more often than I'd like. Maybe it's the nature of the argument that attracts these people?

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