Cover image for Mad in America : bad science, bad medicine, and the enduring mistreatment of the mentally ill
Mad in America : bad science, bad medicine, and the enduring mistreatment of the mentally ill
Whitaker, Robert.
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Publication Information:
Cambridge, Mass. : Perseus Publishing, [2002]

Physical Description:
xviii, 334 pages ; 24 cm
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RA790.W5 M3 2002 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf

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In Mad in America, medical journalist Robert Whitaker reveals an astounding truth: Schizophrenics in the United States fare worse than those in poor countries, and quite possibly worse than asylum patients did in the early nineteenth century. Indeed, Whitaker argues, modern treatments for the severely mentally ill are just old medicine in new bottles and we as a society are deluded about their efficacy. Tracing over three centuries of "cures" for madness, Whitaker shows how medical therapies-from "spinning" or "chilling" patients in colonial times to more modern methods of electroshock, lobotomy, and drugs-have been used to silence patients and dull their minds, deepening their suffering and impairing their hope of recovery. Based on exhaustive research culled from old patient medical records, historical accounts, and government documents, this haunting book raises important questions about our obligations to the mad, what it means to be "insane," and what we value most about the human mind.

Author Notes

Robert Whitaker is an American journalist and author, writing primarily about medicine, science, and history. He has written on and off for the Boston Globe and in 2001, he wrote his first book Mad in America about psychiatric research and medications, the domains of some of his earlier journalism. Articles that Whitaker co-wrote won the 1998 George Polk Award for Medical Writing and the 1998 National Association of Science Writers¿ Science in Society Journalism Award for best magazine article. A 1998 Boston Globe article series he co-wrote on psychiatric research was a finalist for the 1999 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service.

In April 2011, IRE announced that his book, Anatomy of an Epidemic: Magic Bullets, Psychiatric Drugs, and the Astonishing Rise of Mental Illness in America, had won its award as the best investigative journalism book of 2010. In 2015 it became a New York Times bestseller.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

American psychiatry has excelled throughout the nation's history, but doctors and drug manufacturers have profited far more than psychiatric patients. When the World Health Organization compared schizophrenics' recovery rates in the U.S. and in nations too poor to afford the latest psychopharmaceuticals, it found that a Third World patient was exponentially likelier than an American one to regain sanity. Whitaker's articulate dissection of "mad medicine" in the U.S. explains why that dismaying contrast obtains. Assuming that insanity arises from identifiable physical causes, American psychiatry theorized about those causes and sought to find physical therapies and, later, drugs that attacked those causes. Accordingly, from being shocked with cold water and repeatedly nearly drowned, to suffering chemically and electronically induced grand mal seizures, to having the frontal lobes of their brains chopped off, to being drugged into parkinsonism (the preferred modus nowadays), the mad in America have suffered as essentially nonconsensual experimental subjects. Since World War II, drug companies have made continued testing increasingly worthwhile, despite the lack of encouraging results. This horrifying history is all the more discomfiting because another mode of treatment was successfully used from the late eighteenth century until the 1870s. Called moral treatment by its Quaker champions, it involved treating the mad with kindness and sympathetic companionship rather than drugs and machines. But it cost too much, and it wasn't professional. --Ray Olson

Publisher's Weekly Review

Tooth removal. Bloodletting. Spinning. Ice-water baths. Electroshock therapy. These are only a few of the horrifying treatments for mental illness readers encounter in this accessible history of Western attitudes toward insanity. Whitaker, a medical writer and Pulitzer Prize finalist, argues that mental asylums in the U.S. have been run largely as "places of confinement facilities that served to segregate the misfits from society rather than as hospitals that provided medical care." His evidence is at times frightening, especially when he compares U.S. physicians' treatments of the mentally ill to medical experiments and sterilizations in Nazi Germany. Eugenicist attitudes, Whitaker argues, profoundly shaped American medicine in the first half of the 20th century, resulting in forced sterilization and other cruel treatments. Between 1907 and 1927, roughly 8,000 eugenic sterilizations were performed, while 10,000 mentally ill Americans were lobotomized in the years 1950 and 1951 alone. As late as 1933, there were no states in which insane people could legally get married. Though it covers some of the same territory as Sander Gilman's Seeing the Insane and Elaine Showalter's The Female Malady, Whitaker's richer, more detailed book will appeal to those interested in medical history, as well as anyone fascinated by Western culture's obsessive need to define and subdue the mentally ill. Agent, Kevin Lang. (Feb.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Table of Contents

Prefacep. xiii
Acknowledgmentsp. xvii
Part 1 The Original Bedlam (1750-1900)
1 Bedlam in Medicinep. 3
2 The Healing Hand of Kindnessp. 19
Part 2 The Darkest Era (1900-1950)
3 Unfit to Breedp. 41
4 Too Much Intelligencep. 73
5 Brain Damage as Miracle Therapyp. 107
Part 3 Back to Bedlam (1950-1990s)
6 Modern-Day Alchemyp. 141
7 The Patients' Realityp. 161
8 The Story We Told Ourselvesp. 195
9 Shame of a Nationp. 211
10 The Nuremberg Code Doesn't Apply Herep. 233
Part 4 Mad Medicine Today (1990s-Present)
11 Not So Atypicalp. 253
Epiloguep. 287
Notesp. 293
Indexp. 323