Thursday, October 17, 2013

Voluntary Madness by Norah Vincent

Voluntary Madness: My Year Lost and Found in the Loony BinNorah Vincent's New York Times bestselling book, Self-Made Man, ended on a harrowing note. Suffering from severe depression after her eighteen months living disguised as a man, Vincent felt she was a danger to herself. On the advice of her psychologist she committed herself to a mental institution. Out of this raw and overwhelming experience came the idea for her next book. She decided to get healthy and to study the effect of treatment on the depressed and insane "in the bin," as she calls it.

Vincent's journey takes her from a big city hospital to a facility in the Midwest and finally to an upscale retreat down south, as she analyzes the impact of institutionalization on the unwell, the tyranny of drugs-as-treatment, and the dysfunctional dynamic between caregivers and patients. Vincent applies brilliant insight as she exposes her personal struggle with depression and explores the range of people, caregivers, and methodologies that guide these strange, often scary, and bizarre environments.

This was an interesting look into the mental health field, mainly the psychiatric hospitals and how they treat their patients. It started out strongly, but somehow, in the middle, the book lost some of its steam.

The author is an investigative journalist, someone who immersed herself into the subject she’s researching, so she decided to commit herself to three different psychiatric centers, a public one, a private one, and one that was known for its radical treatments. As I said, the first sections, especially the one about the public hospital, are very interesting, painting a start picture of the way the mental health industry works. By the time we get to the third center, however, the narrative has changed completely from a journalistic one to a highly personal one. It wasn’t as effective as I assume the author intended. The reader is not necessarily interested in the author’s own psychological issues, but in the way the centers are run, and, since the pace slows dramatically once she begins to talk about her own depression issues, it can be tough to stay interested.

I really wanted this book to be more interesting. I would have preferred more facts and statistics about the centers she attended instead of the personal introspection. The first part is interesting, though, so if you are looking for something a bit different to read, then you might want to give it a try.

1 comment:

fredamans said...

I know all about that life... for the people that work in those environments anyway... My mom works at a correctional psychiatric hospital. Yep. Scary than the normal psyche hospitals because a judge sent them there.