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 dynamics between caregivers and patients.
©2008 Norah Vincent; (P)2009 Blackstone Audio, Inc.
"Vincent's discussions of daily life, treatment approaches, observations of patients and staff, and commentary on the over-reliance of medication and the nature of mental illness itself are fresh and valuable." (Library Journal)
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"Voluntary" Madness is a fitting name for this book. It seems like Norah Vincent is milking a case of mild depression to get into mental hospitals in order to write a book. One gets the feeling that she wants to be sicker than she actually is. The overall tone is whiny and self-indulgent.
There are redeeming parts of the book. I enjoyed listening to the parts that talked about the various treatments available to Vincent for her mental illness. Living with a mental illness myself, I'm always in the market for quality treatment that will make me feel better and not worse.
If you are interested in mental illness and its treatment, you will get something out of this book. If you are looking for a good experiential read about one woman's journey through madness, you will be disappointed by this sometimes trite, often self-indulgent book.
I got this audiobook after reading Ms. Vincent's prior book, Self-Made Man. After months impersonating a man to infiltrate male-centric societies, Norah was so shaken by the experience, she checked herself into a mental hospital. While there, as an immersive journalist, her thoughts naturally went to: "This would make a good book!" And off she went...
She did not use that first experience in the book except to explain why she wrote it. So this book covers her experiences in 3 hospitals: an East Coast public hospital, a Midwest private hospital, and a West Coast private new-age spa-like hospital. As the prices went up, so did the services and the level of therapy. There was virtually none at the public hospital - Norah got 15 minutes of therapy per day there, which I found almost laughable. This place was also the one most focused on medicating patients. The Midwest hospital had a great psychiatrist who gave Norah daily off-campus passes and who didn't prescribe meds for her that she did not want. The third hospital had a lot of different kinds of therapy but most importantly, had a kindly, caring social worker who gave Norah insights she wasn't expecting.
I think that was the most interesting part of the book for me, and the most unexpected for Norah herself. She went into the project not wanting to lie, therefore she used her own name and her own medical records with their history of depression. However, she thought she was going to these hospitals purely for book research, and she wasn't expecting to get anything out of it. In the end, she got a lot (although not from the public hospital.) I found it interesting how even the most intelligent and educated among us can still be in serious denial about how much help we can use.
Initially I wasn't crazy about the narrator. I'm not sure why but her voice didn't match up to what I was expecting or it wasn't fitting with the emotions or something, but by the time I was halfway in, that wasn't a problem at all anymore. She'd grown on me. And one little negative about audiobooks in general: sometimes in paper books I will skim a little bit, such as over a section about how disgusting it was to eat with some of the highly medicated insane patients in the public hospital, but in an audiobook you can't, so I was thoroughly grossed out when if I'd been reading the print version I would have only been mildly grossed out as I would have glossed that section. I've listened to other books where the problem of not being able to skim came up but not in this way. It's interesting how listening to audiobooks really can be a very different experience from reading print.
This is not a revealing story or a well-thought-out treatise on mental health care. It is a 10-hour rant of uneducated suppositions about what the author thinks about psychiatry and mental health care. As someone who has been committed to a psychiatric hospital for almost a year and who later went on to become board certified in psychiatric nursing, I am horrified that anyone would take this author's ramblings seriously.
Something about crime
The reader did not do the story any favors. She read the book so fast and with such a complaining tone, that it added to the "rantyness" of the prose.
Don't buy this audiobook.
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