Friday, March 4, 2011

My First Review - Voluntary Madness by Norah Vincent

Title:  Voluntary Madness
Author:  Norah Vincent
Publication Date:  2008
Publisher:  Penguin Group (USA)
ISBN:  161882476

Synopsis (from Barnes & Noble)
Norah 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. Eye opening, emotionally wrenching, and at times very funny, Voluntary Madness is a riveting work that exposes the state of mental healthcare in America from the inside out.

My Thoughts
As a mental health clinician, I really, really wanted to like this book and I have to say it wasn't what I expected.  Norah Vincent, a journalist who immerses herself in the environment that she is writing about, chronicles her experiences as she checks into three different psychiatric facilities.  I immediately had a strong negative reaction when I realized that she checked herself into the first facility not because she was experiencing any symptoms but simply for the sake of the "research".  So basically she faked her way in.  As a mental health professional I just couldn't help but think of all the individuals in our communities who need mental health services and are unable to get it for a myriad of reasons and she was there needlessly (ok, I'm sorry I will get off my soapbox now). 

The author unabashedly goes on to share her dislike of almost everything to do with mental health including psychotropic medication as a treatment option, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) used to diagnoss mental illnesses, psychiatrists, counselors, treatment modalities - you name it, she had something negative to say about it.  Her overall tone in the book made me as the reader feel that she was quite arrogant and somehow above the mental health treatment process - ironic, since she herself suffers from major depression and was put "in the bin" as she refers to it in 2004.  Her writing was very stream of conciousness and at times seemed scattered and difficult to follow.  I couldn't discern whether she wanted to write about the problems with the mental health systems or share her many struggles with her own mental illness and treatment. 

Not all was lost in this book however.  The author does make some legitimate points about the mental health system in the United States.  Her immersion in this experience clearly demosntrated a great disparity in treatment services between poorer individuals in urban settings and more affluent individuals who have the resources to afford a more upscale treatment facility.   

The book was not what I expected, but as with any book there is always something to be gained from reading!

Overall rating:  :-)  :-)     Didn' like it!

By the way I noticed its on for $5.98 as a bargain book if you want to try it for yourself! 

Rating System

:-)  Strongly disliked it!

:-)  :-)  Didn't like it!

:-)  :-)  :-)  It was ok!

:-)  :-)  :-)  :-)  Liked it!

:-)  :-)  :-)  :-)  :-)  Loved it!

And remember . . .
Books Are Life,


  1. Congratulations on your first review! Nice job - sorry you didn't like the book though.

  2. You presented a great review of Voluntary Madness and, based on this, I will likely not read this book. I can understand the desire to research the industry from within, but wonder, had she been receiving treatment as a patient at the time, if she would have felt the same way. Does she mention her previous treatment? Were comparisons made between her previous experience when she was under care with this occasion? Do you think, had she been there for legitimate reasons, her impressions would have been different? Hmm, perhaps I should read the book afterall.

    BTW, I am your newest follower.

  3. Interesting review and congratulations on your first. Have you ever read Being Sane in Insane Places? I can't remember the author, but it's in a lot of intro sociology readers. Maybe I'll skip this one but check out her first book.