Voluntary Madness: My Year Lost and Found in the Loony Bin

Norah Vincent

Voluntary Madness: My Year Lost and Found in the Loony Bin

Norah Vincent has always suffered from depression but at the end of a book project that required her to spend eighteen months disguised as a man she felt that she was a danger to herself and was committed to a 'loony bin'. As a result of this traumatic experience Norah came out resolved to go back undercover to report on a range of mental institutions - three difficult, pressurized and very different environments - and to experience first hand their effect on the body and mind. Her journey starts in a huge inner city hospital where most patients are 'repeats', often poor and dispossessed. There Norah confronts the boredom and babbling of an underfunded facility: a place where medication is a process of containment: its purpose to make life easier for the rest of us, not the patients themselves. Cut to the calming green carpet of St Lukes: plenty of 'loonies' here too of course but Norah is taken aback when her doctor allows her to reduce her medication, have a room of her own and a regular jog in the park. Then to Mobius, and a Buddhist-inspired brand of healing, where Norah is forced to plunge deep into her emotional past, and swim through the psycho-babble to some unexpected conclusions. In "Voluntary Madness", Norah Vincent takes a fearless and unprecedented view of mental health care - from the inside out. She demonstrates the power of common sense and human connection: how much better a patient can feel when treated like a person and not a petri dish. 3.4 out of 5 based on 6 reviews
Voluntary Madness: My Year Lost and Found in the Loony Bin

Omniscore:

Classification Non-fiction
Genre Psychology & Psychiatry, Society, Politics & Philosophy
Format Paperback
Pages 304
RRP £12.99
Date of Publication January 2009
ISBN 978-0701181772
Publisher Chatto & Windus
 

Norah Vincent has always suffered from depression but at the end of a book project that required her to spend eighteen months disguised as a man she felt that she was a danger to herself and was committed to a 'loony bin'. As a result of this traumatic experience Norah came out resolved to go back undercover to report on a range of mental institutions - three difficult, pressurized and very different environments - and to experience first hand their effect on the body and mind. Her journey starts in a huge inner city hospital where most patients are 'repeats', often poor and dispossessed. There Norah confronts the boredom and babbling of an underfunded facility: a place where medication is a process of containment: its purpose to make life easier for the rest of us, not the patients themselves. Cut to the calming green carpet of St Lukes: plenty of 'loonies' here too of course but Norah is taken aback when her doctor allows her to reduce her medication, have a room of her own and a regular jog in the park. Then to Mobius, and a Buddhist-inspired brand of healing, where Norah is forced to plunge deep into her emotional past, and swim through the psycho-babble to some unexpected conclusions. In "Voluntary Madness", Norah Vincent takes a fearless and unprecedented view of mental health care - from the inside out. She demonstrates the power of common sense and human connection: how much better a patient can feel when treated like a person and not a petri dish.

Reviews

The Guardian

Blake Morrison

If the writing is manic, mannered, overblown at times, even that seems apt - a guarantee that she's no mere detached observer... Though the focus slowly turns inwards, to Vincent as a patient, the journalist in her never disappears... Her conclusions are impeccably liberal but she asks some awkward questions along the way.

07/02/2009

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The Sunday Times

Camilla Long

The writing is tight, funny and butch, a jabbering world of “docs” and “meds”, and full of brilliant observations - the patients who lean towards the therapist, for example, in an attempt to get high on a whiff of her marker pen... Sometimes, her navel-gazing begins to grate (she is a New Yorker, after all) and the endless stream of saddening case studies is ultimately thin material. But it is a fascinating journey.

18/01/2009

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The Observer

Alexander Linklater

Vincent's observations veer between the insightful and the trite, but in a field dominated by antagonistic professional specialisms of brain and mind, it can take an informed and experienced generalist to see the big picture. She is at her best when exposing the contradictions of public and private healthcare and bristling with the uncomfortable ironies of the position she has put herself in... Curiously, though, her examinations of her own psychology are less gripping than her acerbic social and psychiatric commentaries.

11/01/2009

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The Financial Times

Isabel Berwick

[A] worthwhile and surprisingly easy read for anyone interested in mental illness... Voluntary Madness is uplifting in an odd, grimy, voyeuristic way. And it makes a good point about reporting. Few journalists now leave their desks in search of a story. Vincent reminds us that there is a (locked, secret) world beyond our office windows and internet search engines.

19/01/2009

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Time Out

Jamie Pietras (New York)

At turns reflective and acerbically funny, Vincent’s well-written story raises provocative questions about madness and Big Pharma’s influence on psychiatric practices. Some conclusions—that patients are often “lazy, stubbornly self-indulgent, passive and irresponsible” or that privatizing of anything “tends to improve facilities and quality of service across the board,” for example—might be better earned if she presented the results of her tourism at a handful of facilities alongside more extensive research and interviews. But her own self-discovery makes for compelling reading...

18/12/2008

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The Washington Post

Carolyn See

This book is very nicely written. It addresses timely topics... But I have some serious concerns about "Voluntary Madness." Vincent -- and at least she is honest about this -- has an enormous bias against drugs as a treatment for mental illness, and, more disturbing, she appears not to believe in mental illness at all... What if a severely mentally ill person gets hold of this book and decides to go off his or her medication and commits suicide?

16/01/2009

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