Voluntary Madness: My Year Lost and Found in the Loony Bin - Norah Vincent I'm doing this in bullet-points only, because if I go in depth, I will end up writing an entire book about a book that definitely doesn't deserve it. While there were moments where the Ms. Vincent made some very good points, this wasn't worth the time. It ended up being one of those books I had to read a chapter or two than walk away from, it irritated me that much. And truly, it wasn't the book itself that bothered me. It was the author and her attitude that I couldn't stand.

- People who suffer from depression, chemical dependence, or any mental illness are not guinea pigs! If an author chooses to use them as such for immersive journalism, she had damn well better do so with respect and compassion. The author has no respect for the vast majority of the patients she comes into contact with, as is evidenced by how she refers to them and their stories. Lip service is given to compassion, but it rings hollow. If you have compassion for your fellow patients, you do not help them break rules that are obviously there for a reason. (Example: you do not smuggle in candy and fast food for diabetics, nitwit!) You do not lecture your fellow patients on the evils of drugs. Yes, the patients should know the side-effects of their prescriptions. But medication is not evil (she even refers, in the conclusion, to the "evilly necessary" pill) and does, in fact, give a lot of help and hope to people who, without medication, are completely unable to function. Some people need those meds. Just because the author doesn't feel she needs them, doesn't mean she should be making the decision for everyone else.

- Mental health professionals unwittingly involved in research should also be treated with respect and compassion. Working in mental health, with such tragic stories, low success rates, incredible stressors, and a system that is too messed up to make it easier, is an incredibly difficult thing to do. The rate of burnout in mental health professionals is high to astronomical, depending on the research you look at. Especially in regards to the staff at her first stop, Vincent is incredibly disrespectful and harsh. Mental health workers are human, too, and they are in a field so rough it can eventually turn them into the one of the patients they previously tried to help. A little understanding on the side of the author, instead of hostility and condescension, would have been appreciated.

- At one point, the author refers to the "evilly necessary" pill. Aside from an awkward usage of the word "evilly," that pretty much sums up her approach to medication: pills are evil. Are medications often over-prescribed? Yes. Are they treated too often by patients and doctors alike as a one stop cure all? Yes. Are there side-effects that patients need to be aware of? Oh my goodness, yes. Do pills alone truly help a patient improve over the long-term? No. Is this a reason to dismiss them for everyone as evil? Absolutely not. Pills are not a cure-all by any means. Pills without intense psychotherapy do not put the patient on the path to recovery. But medication can give patients enough lift to start them down a very rocky road in therpay, not to mention give them enough relief to be functional on a day-to-day basis. Patients should always be aware of the side-effects so they can decide for themselves whether the benefits outweigh the risks. Doctors should most definitely be doing more to make patients aware of these risks, but also, in the end, a patient is responsible for doing the research if the doctor doesn't hand it to them. (I never start a medication without researching it intensely first. One Klonopin-induced seizure was enough for me. And ironically? The author has no problem singing the praises of Klonopin.) Some people need more help than therapy and hardwork can provide. Without the patient wanting to put in the hard work, the pills are pretty useless, I agree. But without the medication, a lot of people wouldn't ever be able to put in the effort and hard work in the first place. A lot of people wouldn't even be able to get out of bed. For an awful lot of people, psychiatric medications are an incredible blessing when taken correctly. (Another point: the author repeatedly stops taking her medication. She even does this at the end, when she states she is doing better. Despite the fact that she, and pretty much anyone on medication, knows how dangerous that is and how bad for you. And yet, she does it. Repeatedly. Could her blatant disregard for properly handling her meds have anything to do with why she hates them so much? Just a thought.)

- Immersion journalism, my ass! The sections detailing her stays at Meriwether and St. Luke's read less like a journalism project and more like someone desperately finding a "socially acceptable" way to check herself in. The author needs the help. She's obviously depressed, even in the beginning (you know, before this "research project" turns into "memoir"), despite her protests to the contrary. It seemed to me, instead of recognizing her situation as it stood, she had to find an excuse to check herself into a hospital. It felt like she had to find a way to make it palatable to her conscious mind without having to admit she was sinking fast. The third section reads like an extended advertisement for Mobius. I'm very happy that she found the type of environment she wanted, and I'm glad that at Mobius she got the tools she needed to help heal herself. No one deserves to be miserable. But the praises she sings for Mobius are over the top. Yes, there were major problems with Meriwether, and there were problems with St. Luke's. Just from reading, I can see problems with Mobius, as well, different from the other two yet still problematic, but the author abruptly dropped the bitterness and rage that drove her to find, detail and condemn lapses with the system when it came to Mobius. Freedom of movement and privacy are great, I can't argue that. But a lot of people in a hospital setting are not able to handle either - that's why they're in a hospital to start with. Just something to think about, as the author couldn't pull herself away from her own head long enough to consider that.

- This is petty, but it's a pet peeve of mine. The author repeatedly makes references, often literary, that serve no purpose to the narrative of Voluntary Madness. They're unnecessary and far too numerous, and it just felt like she was trying to show how smart she is. For the most part, her writing was fine, and she's obviously an intelligent and articulate lady. But waxing poetic and going on about "Lear's fool" or "self-styled Hamlet" is unnecessary and self-indulgent. (And the Shakespeare references? Are just the recognizable tip of the iceberg.) References are fine. Too often, these sorts of literary or historical references were the starting point for indulgent musings written in purple prose. They got old very fast. Otherwise, her writing was very crisp and to the point, blunt and easily accessible.

I think if this had been a memoir of the author's own experience from front cover to back, I wouldn't have been nearly so irritated. She freely admits in the opening that this turned into a documentation of her own struggle by the end. That's fine. But don't market it as the work of a journalist when it was written by the depressive. And if you're going to rip into a system so harshly, tear it apart and condemn it, then you'd better have some damn good ideas on fixing it beyond "give the patient a hug." The mental health system is lacking and is far from perfect, but it's all we've got. Places like Mobius are far out of most people's financial capabilities, even if their insurance did pay for most of it. Even St. Luke's is more expensive than a lot of people can handle. Good medical care is astronomically expensive, and this needs to change. But spitting and screaming and tearing everyone to shreds does nothing. Expose it, but then put forth some suggestions, as someone who has been on the inside, on how to change things. It's not the author's responsibility to fix it, but she should know that a temper tantrum doesn't help anybody. And this book? Was mostly one big temper tantrum.