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Outside Mental Health: Voices and Visions of Madness
Will Hall, author

Adult; Health, Diet & Parenting; (Market)

KIRKUS REVIEWS: An expansive set of interviews and essays that offer a unique perspective on mental health. Hall, a professional therapist, a former psychiatric patient, and the author of Harm Reduction Guide to Coming Off Psychiatric Drugs (2011), has been interviewing patients and therapists on his Valley Free Radio show, “Madness Radio,” for a decade. This book assembles more than 60 of those interviews with patients, therapists, and mental health activists who share their very personal and often poignant experiences with psychiatric drugs, hospitalization, and the social stigma of mental illness. The collection is broad and inclusive in its subject matter, as evidenced by chapter titles such as “Meaning in Voices,” “Art and Madness,” “Crash Course in Urban Shamanism,” and “Surviving America’s Depression Epidemic.” The variety in this volume is equally notable; readers will learn much about autism, attention deficit disorder, and bipolar disorder and about controversial treatments, such as electroshock therapy. The book also delves into other issues, such as the disturbingly large number of mentally ill prisoners. Hall’s interview questions are sensitive and perceptive, and the answers that he receives are frank and sometimes sobering. If there’s a central theme to the collection, it’s that drugs and hospital confinement may sometimes be employed excessively or unnecessarily. Eleanor Longden, a researcher at the University of Liverpool, observes, “Psychiatric drugs are designed to inhibit emotion. Yet strong emotion can actually be part of the healing process; learning to fully tolerate, experience, and express it.” Activist, writer, and artist Mel Gunasena, a former psychiatric patient, attests, “When I came out of hospital I had to do a complete detox.…I ultimately healed myself mainly through diet, vitamin and mineral supplements, resolving my trauma, and through friends and family support. Not psychiatric intervention.” Hall’s own emotional essay, “Letter to the Mother of a Schizophrenic,” sums up his focus on the humanity of his subjects: “Again and again I am told the ‘severely mentally ill’ are impaired and incapable, not quite human….[W]hen I finally do meet the people carrying that terrible, stigmatizing label of schizophrenia, what do I find? I find a human being.” A troubling and illuminating collection.

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