Voluntary Madness

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Product Description

The journalist who famously lived as a man commits herself??? literallyNorah 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.

Customer Reviews:

  • One of the sanest books ever written.
    For anybody who has danced around the edges of madness . . . this is a must read. Even for "normal" people, this is a must read. More than anything else, it is a story of healing. And this woman put herself through several loony bins to get there. Read it!
    ...more info
  • Comparison of 3 Mental Health Facilities
    3/5/09 author Ms Norah Vincent's 3 locations for mental health care :1. urban ,2. private catholic, or 3. kind of rural location.. emphasis the environmental profile of the patients(mostly urban black & suburban white); The Medical staffs profiled are rather similar in their solution approaches Most medical coverages supposedly are approved by insurance companies only if Rx are given consistently during the days* approved (*usually two weeks)....more info
  • Kind of Flat
    Chock full of useful information and criticisms of the mental health care system, but oddly flat when it comes to character development and tales of being institutionalized. The patients she describes just aren't interesting enough to hold one's interest, and the reading itself is a tough slog. I had to do a lot of rapid skimming to get through this one, which while erudite, has a low literary quality....more info
  • Sure to raise many good questions and become fodder for debate
    Norah Vincent is the author of the bestseller SELF-MADE MAN. Her writing has appeared in publications such as The Los Angeles Times and The Village Voice. Recently, she was institutionalized in a psychiatric hospital that mainly serves the poor or indigent mentally ill and drug-addicted population of New York City. This, she tells readers in her latest book, VOLUNTARY MADNESS --- a blend of journalistic expos¨¦ and memoir --- was for research. But, she also admits, it was for treatment as well.

    What makes VOLUNTARY MADNESS so interesting, and at times frustrating, is the gray area between her two explicit goals: to write objectively about the state of mental health hospitals and to record her experiences as a patient who is occasionally in legitimate need of the services such hospitals provide.

    Over the course of a year Vincent stayed in three very different hospitals, for a total of about a month. She was inspired to do so after she checked herself into what she calls "the bin" while writing her last book. She had suffered from depression previously, and the intensity of the work she was doing triggered another depressive episode. It was during this time in the hospital that she hit upon the idea of checking herself into a variety of hospital settings for a book. She selected three, in different locales and with different therapeutic approaches, and presented herself with the same set of issues (the ones she actually deals with), though she didn't tell the hospital administrators, caregivers or her fellow patients that in reality she was doing research for a book.

    Her first stay was at the aforementioned urban hospital. The care consisted, for the most part, of high doses of medication and a safe place to crash. The caregivers were, in Vincent's opinion, impersonal and distant, and the therapy was essentially non-existent. Her second stay was much different; she checked herself into a small, semi-rural Catholic hospital that was comfortable and homey, with a caring staff and a trusting and kind physician at the helm. Despite the differences, the two institutions were afflicted with many of the same problems, including a revolving door of patients who, once stabilized, are released only to return again presenting the same symptoms.

    The third hospital, too, dealt with the same issues. This private facility offered a variety of progressive and traditional therapies and allowed patients to live in private apartments. It promoted exercise and good nutrition. Still, the majority of the patients had been institutionalized several times for either mental health issues or addiction (which, Vincent convincingly suggests, are often two sides of the same coin). Many were there because of court orders, just as in the first hospital. While it was in this third and final place that Vincent had a major therapeutic breakthrough of her own, which she shares with raw honesty, she finds that in the end it was not as different of a place from the other two. The reason, she suggests, has to do not with the quality of care or the mission or goals of a particular hospital or clinic but American cultural ideas about mental illness and addiction. Drug companies and doctors who over-prescribed come under much fire here as contributing to this epidemic problem.

    Her thesis seems to slightly shift a few times in the book. And the back and forth movement from objective journalist to patient is less than graceful throughout. The book itself has some interesting ethical dilemmas (going undercover in a mental health facility and playing with prescribed drugs to get a certain outcome, for example). Whether one agrees with all of her ideas or even her methods, VOLUNTARY MADNESS is sure to raise many good questions and become fodder for debate.

    --- Reviewed by Sarah Rachel Egelman...more info
  • Can't say I'm surprised
    I haven't read this and almost certainly won't but, having read "Self Made Man", I can't say I'm surprised to learn that she is a candidate for the loony bin, voluntary or otherwise.

    If she is as cavalier with this subject as she was with her previous subject this will not be worth the paper it's printed on.
    ...more info
  • been done before and quite better
    Whats the point? & who's it meant for? I'm not sure who would be the target audience for a book that has really no point or purpose. The author appears to be making a half-hearted attempt to get some mileage out of a literary degree by sharing her sophomoric ideas about a subject she has obviously not studied or fully experienced. It's not about her own 'illness' (although that is what she implies in the title) as she doesn't ever really commit to exposing her own struggles but rather gives a preachy and perfunctory speck here and there. At one point she describes her reaction to another person prefacing it with "me being me," and it hit me that I have no idea what that means. She doesn't share enough for the reader to join her in her concept of "me" so it just emphasizes the fact that she has not really developed her 'character' at all for the reader. It's unfortunate too, because there's probably a story here if the author was willing to really commit to telling it instead of hiding under pretense. The writing winds back & forth between vague descriptions of her being a "depressive" and her treatment in the mental health establishments. If you want to write a book exposing the latter- there is alot more to say than is portrayed here! If you're looking for a book that will help you to empathize with those who struggle with mental illness and the institutions/ treatment woes that are a part of that, you're better off elsewhere (Saks or Redfield Jamison). This author appears not to really have much passion and therefore much focus with regard to whatever subject she's calling this & it just comes off as trite as the word "bin" she continually uses. She extracted her 'words to live by' off of the patch on someone's jacket- need I say more? It seems her purpose was simply to write a book. It's practically an insult to people who actually have a diagnosed mental illness, and full of opinions disguised as information. Don't waste your time- ...more info
  • Much needed information
    Norah Vincent provides insight into the way psychiatry and psychiatric services are so often "barking up the wrong tree." As a psychotherapist myself, I'm often in the position of repairing the damage done by the psychiatric establishment. This book gets it right and should provide hope for many who struggle with their own feelings of hopelessness in the face of the "treatment" they are getting.
    John Frykman, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist...more info


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