Voluntary Madness

by Norah Vincent

This is an excellent read, for its subject matter and the many thoughts it provokes.

Back when I read Self Made Man, I lent it to a friend, and she commented that she couldn’t understand why the author made a big deal out of some “insights” that could otherwise be deducted or found by reading articles. When I read Voluntary Madness, I am reminded of her words, for indeed what Vincent discovered in her experience is probably reported in some research papers already. I do appreciate Vincent as a hands-on learner and her determination to plunge herself in for a first hand experience, instead of our approach to just contend with reading about somthing and taking it as a fact.

Vincent visited three insituations, which varies from an almost jail-like, intimidating environment, to an enriching, resort-like care center. Her first hand experience provides clear looks into how the difference in treatment can affect one’s psyche and make one improve or deterioate. The book starts out as a journalistic investigation, and ends as a poignant memoir of the author’s own transformation. The best parts of the book are when she remunates over her experience and the overall mental care system: if the will of the patient is the most crucial difference, how does one justify spending more money on the system? Is psychiatry a science if the diagnosis is based solely on what the patient says? When insitutions like Meriwether deprive patients of human interaction, are they keeping the patients from getting better?

And the funniest part of the book: When the author offered to reimburse her insurance for the stay at the mental insitution (as it would be a research expense on writing the book, although the claim as a NYT bestseller author comes out suspiciously psychotic), the insurance company called to evaluate if she’s really mental.

Published in: on February 20, 2010 at 5:30 pm  Leave a Comment