Cover image for The invisible plague : the rise of mental illness from 1750 to the present
The invisible plague : the rise of mental illness from 1750 to the present
Torrey, E. Fuller (Edwin Fuller), 1937-
Publication Information:
New Brunswick, NJ : Rutgers University Press, [2001]

Physical Description:
xiv, 416 pages : illustrations, maps ; 25 cm
Added Author:
Format :


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RC455.2.E64 T67 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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The prevalence of insanity, which was once considerably less than one case per 1,000 total population, has risen beyond five cases in 1,000. Why has mental illness reached epidemic proportions? What are the causes of severe mental illness? Why do we continue to deny the rising numbers, and how does this denial affect our ability to help those who are afflicted?

In The Invisible Plague , E. Fuller Torrey and Judy Miller examine the records on insanity in England, Ireland, Canada, and the United States over a 250-year period, concluding, through both qualitative and quantitative evidence, that disorders like schizophrenia and bipolar illness are an unrecognized, modern-day plague. This book is a unique and major contribution to medical history. Until now, insanity, and its apparent rise over the centuries, has been interpreted as a socially and economically driven phenomenon. Torrey and Miller insist upon the biological reality of psychiatric disease and examine the reasons why its contemporary prevalence has been so profoundly misunderstood.

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

In their refreshing, thoroughly documented, cogent reply to the current generally accepted interpretation of the incidence and even the existence of insanity, Torrey and Miller point out many holes in the arguments of other recent historians of the subject and don't push any single approach to schizophrenia and manic depression. Instead, they ask for a spirit of inquiry because so much about the rate of growth and the causes of mental illness remains unclear that open-minded research and clinical studies are still very much needed. Although there are a lot of statistics and graphs, as well as explication of them, in the book, there is also enough history of diagnosis and treatment in the U.S., England, Ireland, and Canada to fascinate readers whose favorite topic isn't numbers. The book delves deeply into clinical accounts and historic insane-asylum politics, funding, and social acceptance. Frequent reference to literary works and authors lightens the tone of the proceedings, as does the authors' hypothesis of a relationship between the wearing of stockings and the incidence of insanity. --William Beatty

Choice Review

Research psychiatrist Torrey and his assistant Miller have written an important contribution to the understanding of mental illness. The authors argue that psychosis is real and has increased dramatically over the last three centuries. They ground their position on substantial statistical data (deftly supported with literary and anecdotal sources) and cut through the rhetoric that surrounds Michael Foucault, Thomas Szasz, and others who have argued that mental illness really does not exist; that asylums are merely places to dump the socially marginal and inconvenient and make money for medical practitioners. There are some problems with the book. The authors seem overly willing to accept definitions and diagnoses from earlier times, when doctors themselves were not entirely clear about what constituted insanity or how to identify it. The research is limited to the British Isles and North America, leaving some of the broader generalizations subject to question. Finally, although it was not the authors' purpose to find an explanation for patterns of growth and occurrence of insanity, the lack of one--they offer only some hypotheses--leaves the subject open for further debate. Despite its limits, the extensive research and readable style of this work will draw scholars, students, and interested general readers in large numbers. All collections. F. Van Hartesveldt Fort Valley State University