Tuesday, February 6, 2018

American Psychosis, by E. Fuller Torrey

American Psychosis, by E. Fuller Torrey

In this strongly stated book, Torrey describes how the formation of the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) was formed, accompanied by well-meaning, but ill-planned federal programs for the out-patient care of mental ill patients and the emptying of state-funded mental hospitals. Due to terrible conditions in state hospitals and to the discovery of antipsychotics, many well-intended people wanted to improve the condition of mentally ill people by giving them independence and better living conditions through outpatient treatment. So the founders of NIMH, with the help of President Kennedy, began a federal program intended to care for patients on an outpatient basis, as well as providing resources which were intended on reducing the onset of mental illness in future generations. Unfortunately, as the state hospitals closed en masse, these federal programs didn't do their job as intended. The federal programs focused too much on trying (and failing) to reduce the new onset of mental illness, and not enough on taking care of people who were released from hospitals. Many people from the hospitals had nowhere to go and/or stopped taking their meds (for various reasons). The populations of homeless and jailed/imprisoned mentally ill people skyrocketed. Violence by and against people with mental illness skyrocketed. Chaos ensued.

Torrey provided convincing background and evidence that the federal program has failed and that the en masse emptying of state hospitals was a huge mistake. It did a fantastic job of laying out the problems as they stand as well as some of the history as to how we got to the failed mental healthcare system of today. However, he did not provide adequate solutions to the problems presented. Even the chapter whose title was dedicated to solutions was only a recap of the problems with few real solutions presented. And those that were presented were not argued in-depth. I'm still giving the book 4 stars, though, because it was interesting and informative.

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