Yes, The Other Mrs. is a page-turner. But do we really need another split personality trick to power a mystery? And even if you are not allergic to that, I found the story full of inconsistencies. What (apparently loving) mom would not know that there’s something wrong with her teenager? Or, for that matter, move in with another teenager without addressing obvious behavior issues? There’s quite a list of highly improbable actions like that.
The Galvins of Hidden Valley Road: Inside the Mind of an American Family had twelve (!) children and six of them were diagnosed as schizophrenic, eventually bringing them to become one of the families studied by the National Institute of Mental Health to look for DNA markers and, we hope treatment.
The story is rather frightening, as multiple children were abused by their unwell siblings while the parents tried hard to present a perfect external face–at a time when mental illness was considered shameful. Mental illness treatment has made very little progress; let’s hope it changes soon.
America’s prisons and jails are full of mental patients who would likely fare much better in therapeutic settings (and their reassignment would allow police and correctional officers to focus on maintaining peace and order rather than serving as reluctant and mostly untrained mental health providers). Insane: America’s Criminal Treatment of Mental Illness describes both the failures of the system and some promising experiments driven by various police departments and prisons. Unfortunately the author chooses to multiply similar examples, even when a point has been made successfully, and she does not do a great job of isolating the real causes of the problem, beyond indicating a general lack of treatment facilities and funding. It would be very helpful to have better metrics and analysis of the root cause.
The author of Blue Dreams: The Science and the Story of the Drugs that Changed Our Mind has suffered from bipolar illness her whole life and asserts in the introduction that she is a practitioner as well as a patient — although she is a psychologist, not an MD nor a scientist, which sometimes shows. Her book combines her own experiences (sad, but not too interesting to me) with a solid history of treatments and drugs for mental illnesses (the best part of the book) and rants against the sorry state of our knowledge about mental illness (understandable, but not too useful, and not always entirely coherent, as when she raves against blindly prescribing drugs for which we don’t know why they work while also pursuing completely untested treatment with psilocybin or MDMA for herself).
The best (and main) focus of the book, the history of treatments for serious mental illness, is certainly discouraging, since most available treatments have serious side effects, certainly when taken for long periods of time, and unknown action mechanisms. No wonder that patients are hungry for better solutions!
The Woman in the Window is a New York psychologist whose agoraphobia prevents her from leaving the house. Even retrieving a package from her doorstep is an ordeal. New neighbors move in, and with them a teenager who seems to be the only person who can penetrate her life — and then it all goes very wrong, in completely unexpected ways. It’s a delightful mystery with plenty of twists and a harrowing ending.
The author of Gorilla and the Bird: A Memoir of Madness and a Mother’s Love is a public defender who routinely helps defendants with mental illness navigate the legal system — until he has a psychotic break and ends up in a locked mental yard, from which his mother, the Bird of the title, manages to extract him and helps him manage his illness, the complicated health options for bipolar disorders, and the sometime funny, sometimes tragic mishaps along the way to recovery. Because the author of this memoir is the patient himself, he makes it clear that, except in his worst moments, he understands quite clearly what is happening to him, even when he can’t control his behavior, which makes the story that much more poignant.
Haroon Moghul’s autobiography, How to Be a Muslim: An American Story, is at its best when it keeps to the personal story, how the author describes being thrust into the role of professional Muslim as an undergraduate (because of 9/11) — even as he struggled with his faith, his relationship with his family, and his American-ness, not to mention his mental illness.
The more sweeping historical and political descriptions I could have done without, but the personal struggle is engaging and a reminder that a carefully composed public identity can hide much suffering.
The Vegetarian is the story of an apparently entirely unremarkable woman who suddenly stops consuming animal products (the title should really be The Vegan) and pretty soon stops eating altogether only to be treated with amazing brutality by her unloving husband, her brutal father, and, sadly, the medical system. Only her sister stands by her despite the callous exploitation of the situation by her husband. It’s all very dark, hopeless even, with an especially gloomy view of the position of women in society.
Bottom line: don’t read this if you feel a little down, but what a masterful story.
Furiously Happy: A Funny Book About Horrible Things is a collection of essays and real-life stories by the author, who shares her struggles with depression and a host of other psychological ailments in a voice that is in turn hilarious and poignant. I thought the personal memories were told in a wonderful manner, discussing mental illness with welcome openness. The humor parts I did not think so funny! Many seem aimless and others seemed off-mark to me.
Imagine Me Gone is the story of a family with a father and son with severe depression and for me the best part of the story was how the other family members manage to hide the problems from each other and to the outside world, and continue to believe that all will be well. That said, no touch happens in the story and more patient readers than I may enjoy it more than I did.