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

Author(s) : Norah Vincent

Voluntary Madness: My Year Lost and Found in the Loony Bin
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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. In analysing the peculiar, sometimes damaging and occasionally transformative relationships between patients and their caregivers, her consummate, fearless and darkly funny reportage makes for riveting reading.