Where do I start? If you’re like me and enjoy historical non-fiction, then this one you may want to pick up. Keep in mind it’s about mental health treatment in the United States starting in the mid-20th century.
The author, Dr. Torrey introduces how mental illness was dealt with by describing the Kennedy family and a big secret that wasn’t revealed for decades… her name was Rosemary and was sister to JFK. The Kennedy family did everything they could to hide her from the press and the “embarrassment” that she was, going so far as to lie about her circumstances and the reason she wasn’t as public as the rest of the family. After a lengthy time of institutionalization, Rosemary figured out ways to escape and behave like any teenage girl out on the town except she had no concept of the danger and risks. The Kennedys decided that a lobotomy would be the best solution to “calm her down” only there was one snip too many and it left her all but incapacitated. Experimentation on mentally ill individuals wasn’t uncommon in those days, but for a family with all sorts of resources, this was simply unacceptable. Pursuing the American dream in politics was far more important than the care and well-being of a helpless daughter.
This started the federal government’s imposition on the mental health services in this country partially based upon John F. Kennedy’s guilt over Rosemary’s fate. He and his other sister worked hard to change the mental health system, which slowed down and shut the doors of many of the “snake pit” psychiatric facilities around the country. This set into motion other problems in treating patients and didn’t exactly turn out the way the improvements were envisioned. The ball got dropped so many times that we still don’t have an excellent method of diagnosing, treating, and providing long-term solutions to this lost population.
Facts and details are well outlined in this book. At some points it seems a little tedious but this is a work of non-fiction so stick with it and absorb as much as you’re able. From the early 20th century up until the present moment, American Psychosis details the creation of the new system, the people responsible for the direction it went in, and how it has blossomed into today’s problem with no end in sight.
There are so many excellent points and details, well outlined without tangents and confusing. The subtitle, How the Federal Government Destroyed the Mental Illness Treatment System, tells it all. I highly recommend this to anyone interested in the history of our country’s mentally ill and their care. This book will open your eyes and enlighten your world in what was started 50 years ago and what it is now.
Rating: 4.5 stars
Title: American Psychosis
Author: E. Fuller Torrey
Release Date: July 25, 2013