Just stocked up at the library; also digging into Jhumpa Lahiri’s Unaccustomed Earth for my book group. But read an intriguing review in the Times, and so my list grows to include Mad, Bad and Sad: Women and the Mind Doctors by Lisa Appignanesi.

The reviewer, Kathryn Harrison, writes:

One of the consistently fascinating and disturbing aspects of [the book] is Lisa Appignanesi’s assiduous tracking of the modishness of what might be mistaken for a sui generis discipline. Of course, as anyone who has visited a psychiatric hospital — or ridden the subway — can attest, crazy is what we call people who refuse to conform to accepted norms of behavior. And the definition of nonconformity must change in step with styles of conforming. …

As Appignanesi observes, “Patients could well find themselves the victims of a doctor’s prejudice about what kind of behavior constituted sanity: this could all too easily work against women who didn’t conform to the time’s norms of sexual behavior or living habits.” That diagnoses conceived by male doctors would be subject to men’s changeable views of women — romantic, patronizing, idealistic, misogynistic: the choices are limited only by the imagination — comes as no surprise; it’s the meticulous and exhaustive account of these theories offered in “Mad, Bad and Sad” that is sobering.

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Spotting of the day: Sarah Chalke from Scrubs in an advertisement for a pharmacy, shot at the market near the bus station in La Antigua, Guatemala. Trust her! She’s neurotic and quirky!

 

An interesting review of Christopher Lane’s Shyness: How Normal Behaviour Became an Illness over at Spiked; an excerpt:

[T]he range of ‘healthy behaviour’ is being increasingly narrowed. ‘Our quirks and eccentricities – the normal emotional range of adolescence and adulthood – have become problems we fear and expect drugs to fix’, Lane writes. ‘We are no longer citizens justifiably concerned about our world, who sometimes need to be alone. Our affiliations are chronic anxiety, personality or mood disorders; our solitude is a marker for mild psychosis; our dissent, a symptom of Oppositional Defiant Disorder; our worries, chemical imbalance that drugs must cure.’

Also worth checking out is Allan V. Horwitz and Jerome C. Wakefield’s The Loss of Sadness: How Psychiatry Transformed Normal Sorrow into Depressive Disorder.

The culturally specific treatment of mental illness (which in the U.S. seems to have manifested itself in the dogged belief that merely popping a pill can cure any ailment) is particularly stark if you’ve spent any time overseas. Combine that with the absolutely ridiculous prices of prescriptions (for example, in the U.S. — if I were not covered by insurance — I would pay about $400 a month for two prescriptions I’ve been taking for several years; in India, I could buy their generic equivalents for less than $5 a month), and it’s difficult not to be skeptical about the way in which we sketch the lines circumscribing normal and abnormal (albeit “treatable”) behavior.

(And, a postscript with a bonus link to an intriguing essay by Eric G. Wilson, “In Praise of Melancholy.” In addition to touching on some of the issues surfaced above, Wilson writes:

I for one am afraid that American culture’s overemphasis on happiness at the expense of sadness might be dangerous, a wanton forgetting of an essential part of a full life. I further am concerned that to desire only happiness in a world undoubtedly tragic is to become inauthentic, to settle for unrealistic abstractions that ignore concrete situations. I am finally fearful of our society’s efforts to expunge melancholia. Without the agitations of the soul, would all of our magnificently yearning towers topple? Would our heart-torn symphonies cease?

Well, well said.)


Image licensed under Creative Commons by Flickr’s net_efekt.

Two interesting stories in the Wall Street Journal today on different sides of mental illness: The first explores the ways in which certain drug companies may have exaggerated the effectiveness of prescription medications used to treat mental illness in the U.S., and the second looks at how families in China grapple with the mentally ill.

The second story perturbed me a bit; the narrative centers on a family that constructed a cage in which they imprisoned their son, who had stabbed a neighbor to death. I think what bothers me is that it implicitly borders on the belief that something of this nature wouldn’t happen in the U.S., that the way we construct mental illness is so evolved as to avoid any such irrational, desperate measures. I’m sure if one looked closely enough at court records or crime blotters in the U.S., it would be easy to find similar stories — exhausted parents with no money, no insurance, and no other options make choices that in hindsight seem unnecessarily cruel; I doubt the reporter meant to conflate Chinese culture and an individual’ behavior, but lacking context or broader epidemiological details, the story makes me a bit uneasy about what readers might infer.