Mad In America: Bad Science, Bad Medicine, And The Enduring Mistreatment Of The Mentally Ill

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9780738207995: Mad In America: Bad Science, Bad Medicine, And The Enduring Mistreatment Of The Mentally Ill
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In Mad in America, medical journalist Robert Whitaker reveals an astounding truth: Schizophrenics in the United States currently fare worse than patients in the world's poorest countries, and quite possibly worse than asylum patients did in the early nineteenth century. With a muckraker's passion, Whitaker argues that modern treatments for the severely mentally ill are just old medicine in new bottles, and that we as a society are deeply deluded about their efficacy. Tracing over three centuries of "cures" for madness, Whitaker shows how medical therapies have been used to silence patients and dull their minds. He tells of the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century practices of "spinning" the insane, extracting their teeth, ovaries, and intestines, and submerging patients in freezing water. The "cures" in the 1920s and 1930s were no less barbaric as eugenic attitudes toward the mentally ill led to brain-damaging lobotomies and electroshock therapy. Perhaps Whitaker's most damning revelation, however, is his report of how drug companies in the 1980s and 1990s skewed their studies in an effort to prove the effectiveness of their products. Based on exhaustive research culled from old patient medical records, historical accounts, numerous interviews, and hundreds of government documents, Mad in America raises important questions about our obligations to the mad, what it means to be "insane," and what we value most about the human mind.

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Review:

Hot on the heels of an optimistic film about Nobelist John Nash's schizophrenic journey comes medical journalist Robert Whitaker's disturbing exposé of the cruel and corrupt business of treating mental illness in America. Mad in America begins by surveying three centuries of mental health treatments to discover why positive outcomes for schizophrenics in the U.S. for the last 25 years have decreased--making them lower than those in developing countries. Whitaker asks, "Why should living in a country with such rich resources and advanced medical treatments for disorders of every kind, be so toxic to those who are severely mentally ill?"

One of Whitaker's answers draws upon the historic and current assumptions of a physical cause for schizophrenia. This resulted in cruel and unusual physical treatments--from ice-water immersion and bloodletting to the more contemporary electroshock, lobotomy, and drug therapies with dangerous side effects. This physical cause model leads to Whitaker's more provocative explanation: that mental illness has become a profit center. He offers disturbing details about how good business for drug companies makes for bad medicine in treating schizophrenia. From drug companies skewing their studies and patient/subjects kept in the dark about experiments to the cozy relationship between the American Psychiatric Association and drug companies, Whitaker underlines the mistreatment of the mentally ill. This courageous and compelling book succeeds as both a history of our attitudes toward mental illness and a manifesto for changing them. --Barbara Mackoff

About the Author:

Robert Whitaker is a science journalist and the author, most recently, of Mad in America. He has won the George Polk Award for Medical Writing and a National Association of Science Writers' Award for best magazine article. He was a finalist for the 1998 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service, considered journalism's top prize. He has also published more than twenty short stories in literary magazines such as the Indiana Review, Black Warrior Review, Florida Review, and Columbia: A Magazine of Poetry and Prose. His long fascination with South America began in the late 1970s, when he built and lived in a bamboo hut on the Ecuadorian coast. He now lives and writes in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

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