This Way Madness Lies
This history of mental illness in England, Europe, and the United States touches on the many critical aspects of the diagnosis and treatment of psychosis and depression over the course of the past eight centuries. A large part of the book is dedicated to the evolution of England’s most famous asylum for the insane, Bethlem, eventually referred to as “Bedlam” due to the chaotic and highly questionable care dolled out there. This book has hundreds of period photographs that help the reader to form an image of the conditions and treatment available to those deemed “mad.” This detailed history is at once informative and sad, as there are few examples over many years where people with brains that were broken or functioned differently have been treated humanely and with respect. As the author chronicles the transitions from one exciting, yet ultimately dehumanizing and torturous, treatment to another (blind brain surgery, to blood letting, to restraints, to isolation, to ECT, to lobotomization, to induced comas, to modern day drugs that control mood extremes at the cost of horrific, permanent side effects and personality loss) I came to question the “progress”. There were a few (but far between) treatment regimes and retreats that treated the mentally ill as members of a community and integrated them into the lives of the mentally well. These examples shed the light of hope (if ever briefly) on a problem as old as humanity. As I read to the end of the book, where the present day dilemma for the mentally ill, is described, it became clear that there was a golden age for the asylum and the mentally ill was certainly different and better than today's situation with our revolving door care, insurance companies refusing to pay for anything other than medication, and the vast majority of the chronically mentally ill living on the streets. The book gives a voice to the mentally ill with many exquisite plates of artwork by people under psychiatric care over the last three centuries. This book brings together a history of psychiatry, asylums, public policy, and government intervention (both good and bad) as they apply to those that society deems insane. The many pictures and descriptions make the tome worth a careful read and will hopefully move you to consider the continued plight of the mentally ill in our society. Some of the pictures and accompanying text could be blown up a bit larger. I had to use a magnifying glass to get at some of the detail. Still, I learned a lot from this book and it reminded me that there are numerous people, who, through no fault of their own, remain at the fringes of society, even after centuries of (mostly) well meaning intervention.