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

Voluntary Madness: My year lost and found in the loony bin


Norah Vincent, Chatto & Windus ISBN 9780701181772

While the title suggests a naive attempt at investigative journalism, Vincent is a seasoned depressive who practises “immersion” journalism – where a person immerses themselves in a situation to report on their experiences. A bruising spell on a locked ward gave her the idea to set out to expose psychiatric institutions.

She stays, for only a couple of weeks each, at three very different US facilities to experience first hand the care, and observe the milieu of these environments. There’s a running commentary on the limitations of medication, but the main storyline is the interaction of people in institutions and what is actually achieved.

By her second admission, Vincent doesn’t have to pretend to be depressed but her experiment demonstrates the problems with diagnosis and the interplay with purchasing care.

However, Vincent does receive help at a therapy centre and she leaves with a more balanced view of the potential of some institutions and the message that you need to “heal thyself”.

This is an enjoyable read although it can seem uncomfortably voyeuristic at times, which is the point.

Tina Coldham is national development consultant, Health and Social Care Advisory Service

This review is published in the 26 February issue of Community Care magazine

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