Voluntary Madness, By Norah Vincent
Sunday 27 December 2009
An American journalist, Norah Vincent made her name with her 2006 account of the year she spent living as a man, a project requiring her complete "immersion" in the experience. It also saw her locked up in a psychiatric ward by her own volition, after a nervous breakdown. Her time in the psych ward occasioned a second bout of "immersion journalism" and this, her second book, about her experiences. What she found was shocking, if not surprising.
Few things can be more terrifying than surrendering your freedom by voluntarily entering a psychiatric hospital. Vincent's bravery – or is it foolhardiness – takes her first to a public-sector institution called Meriwether, whose name she feels belies its misery and bleakness. Most "inmates", she says, are without medical insurance, are psychotic rather than "depressed", and claim to be the victims of childhood abuse or life on the streets. The staff, it seems to her, treat them contemptuously, and provide little therapeutic help but lots and lots of medication.
What a contrast to her next experience, in the private sector at the caring place that is St Luke's – which, incidentally, costs Vincent's insurance company the same amount of money as the first. Lovely surroundings, regular therapy sessions, caring staff and lots of food for the middle-class addicts who are the bulk of the patients – yet it's still not right.
Like a disturbed Goldilocks searching for the perfect bowl of porridge, it's not until Vincent comes across the alternative therapy project, Mobius, where the emphasis is on therapy, not medication, that she can rest easy.
As an indictment of modern ways of treating insanity, this book is superb. As an account of a woman's breakdown and self-discovery, it is insightful, poignant and hard-hitting, a natural inheritor of those classics, The Bell Jar, Prozac Nation and Girl, Interrupted.
Art Somebody is going around telling people he's Banksy - but it isn't the street artist
Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challengeTV
Academy criticised after no non-white actors nominated
tvAn expose of hooliganism masquerading as an ideological battle
artLee Hadwin can't draw when he's awake, but by night he's an artist
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Saudi preacher who 'raped and tortured' his five -year-old daughter to death is released after paying 'blood money'
- 2 Mystery man who gave mum heart-warming note on train 'wanted to put a smile on her face'
- 3 Michelle Obama highlights harsh restrictions faced by Saudi women after meeting King Salman without wearing a headscarf
- 4 Mafia's wall of silence broken: Victim of Cosa Nostra's extortion rackets in its Corleone heartland co-operates with authorities for the first time ever
- 5 Amal Clooney gives excellent answer to fashion question at European Court of Human Rights
Heavy metal producer's corpse to be mutilated by models as per his dying wish
Game of Thrones season 5: Grey Worm actor Jacob Anderson is all for more male nudity – as long as it’s not him
The Jump 2015 line-up: Joey Essex, Phil Tufnell, Heather Mills and co take to the slopes
Costa Book Awards 2015: H is for Hawk named book of the year
New Ghostbusters movie lands all-female cast with Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon and Leslie Jones
'We would evict Queen from Buckingham Palace and allocate her council house,' say Greens
French court convicts three over homophobic tweets, in case hailed as a 'significant victory' by LGBT rights campaigners
Greece elections: Syriza and EU on collision course after election win for left-wing party
British Muslim school children suffering a backlash of abuse following Paris attacks
British grandmother Lindsay Sandiford faces execution by firing squad in Indonesia
Liberal Democrat minister defends comments suggesting immigration causes pub closures