Book Reviews by Linda Barrett

Can you be arrested and put in jail for being mentally ill? A book entitled “Crazy In America: The Hidden Tragedy of Our Criminally Mentally Ill” written by Mary Beth Pfeiffer is in our New Directions Library as a must read.

A former New York Times investigative reporter published this tome, based on her NYT 2004 article, “Death In the Box”. Crazy In America describes the ways our American justice system fails these suffering people by incarcerating them instead of treating them. This 2007 book is published by Carroll and Graf, New York.

The second book, “Shadow Syndromes: Recognizing and Coping with Hidden Psychological Disorders That Can Influence Your Behavior and Silently Determine the Course of  Your Life” caught my attention through “Lila,” a member of our group. Lila looked through our books on the book table and told me that this book influenced her to get necessary  psychiatric treatment. The book describes many disorders which go undiagnosed or misunderstood.

The authors are John J. Ratey, M.D. the co-author of Driven to Distraction and Catherine Johnson Ph.D. Published in 1997 by Pantheon Books in New York.

Kate Millett’s 1990 (rev. 2000) The Loony Bin Trip (published by the University of Illinois) details her manic episode’s journey from a women’s run farm in Poughkeepsie, N.Y. to her father’s ancestral homeland to Ireland.

Millett gives us a first hand illustration of the hell she suffered when she pulled herself off her lithium. She recalls her involuntary commitment in an asylum called Our Lady of Claire to reveal  the Irish mental health care system is just as severely flawed as the US system.

As a person who’s stood up for the helpless around the world, Millett shows through her ordeal how we should change our voices to help the mentally ill receive better treatment. Her book also leads us through her tragedies to her triumph and healing to a wonderful happy ending when she returns to full mental health.

Madness and Modernism by Louis A. Sass, 1998. His book details the impact the mentally ill made on early 20th century art and literature. Sass reveals how the mentally ill mind works to comprehend our world through unique points of view and how modern culture accepts it as beautiful or unique in various art forms.

Artists such as Salvador Dali and artistic movements such as surrealism and Dadaism used the mentally ill mind as bases in their artistic works. Mentally ill artists earned fame and promise in the Outsider Art movements with their “discovered” works in the literary or visual arts. Sass will open your eyes to how the mentally ill mind perceives and how art has embraced it.

Anatomy of an Epidemic by Robert Whitaker, 2010, delves into how American society treats mental illness. He wonders why so many people are receiving these new psychotropic drugs and diagnoses of bipolar and ADHD when 50 to 100 years ago, few people were classified as such and did well without medication, albeit they had definite periods of illness.

He takes the reader through psychology’s metamorphosis from the brave new science to a badly mismanaged industry, rife with bureaucratic bungling and big business abuses. Whitaker reveals shocking truths behind the myth that tossing out the right medications can fix mental illness. Many readers will nod their heads in agreement about what the author says.

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