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50 Signs of Mental IllnessA Beautiful MindA Beautiful MindA Bright Red ScreamA Casebook of Ethical Challenges in NeuropsychologyA Corner Of The UniverseA Lethal InheritanceA Mood ApartA Research Agenda for DSM-VA Slant of SunA War of NervesAbnormal Psychology in ContextADD-Friendly Ways to Organize Your LifeAddiction Recovery ToolsAdvance Directives in Mental HealthAggression and Antisocial Behavior in Children and AdolescentsAl-JununAlmost a PsychopathAlterations of ConsciousnessAm I Okay?American ManiaAmerican Psychiatric Publishing Textbook of Neuropsychiatry and Clinical NeurosciencesAn American ObsessionAngelheadAnger, Madness, and the DaimonicAnthology of a Crazy LadyApproaching NeverlandAs Nature Made HimAsylumAttention-Deficit Hyperactivity DisorderAttention-Deficit/Hyperactivity DisorderBeing Mentally Ill: A Sociological Theory Betrayal TraumaBetrayed as BoysBetter Than ProzacBetter Than WellBeyond AppearanceBeyond ReasonBinge No MoreBiological UnhappinessBipolar 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ChildrenEmotions and LifeEmpowering People with Severe Mental IllnessEssential PsychopharmacologyEssentials of Cas AssessmentEssentials of Wais-III AssessmentEthics and Values in PsychotherapyEthics in Mental Health ResearchEthics in Psychiatric ResearchEthics, Culture, and PsychiatryEverything In Its PlaceFamily Experiences With Mental IllnessFatigue as a Window to the BrainFear of IntimacyFinding Iris ChangFinding Meaning in the Experience of DementiaFlorid StatesFolie a DeuxFor the Love of ItForensic Nursing and Multidisciplinary Care of the Mentally Disordered OffenderFountain HouseFrom Madness to Mental HealthFrom Trauma to TransformationGandhi's WayGender and Its Effects on PsychopathologyGender and Mental HealthGenes, Environment, and PsychopathologyGetting Your Life BackGracefully InsaneGrieving Mental IllnessHandbook of AttachmentHandbook of DepressionHandbook of Self and IdentityHealing the SplitHerbs for the MindHidden SelvesHigh RiskHope and DespairHow Clients Make Therapy 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Related Topics
Speaking Our MindsReview - Speaking Our Minds
An Anthology
by Jim Read and Jill Reynolds (Editors)
Macmillan Press, 1996
Review by Rachel Cooper
Jul 31st 2000 (Volume 4, Issue 31)

Speaking Our Minds is a collection of fifty short, personal accounts by people who have experienced psychiatric care from "the wrong side of the drugs trolley" (Jim Read p175). The accounts are consistently moving, sometimes horrific, and occasionally funny. Some describe what it is like to suffer from the symptoms of mental illness - hallucinations, depression, agoraphobia, memory loss. Some describe writers' experiences of drug treatment, E.C.T., psychotherapy and art-therapy. Others document experiences of setting up and organising patient-support groups. Also included are descriptions of life as an in-patient, as well as accounts by long-term patients who have now moved out of hospital and into the community. Most of the accounts describe experiences of British mental health care, although accounts from the U.S.A., Australia and Slovenia are also included.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the accounts report an extremely diverse range of experiences. Some contributors consider themselves to have been cured by traditional psychiatric treatments, others think they have been permanently damaged by them. Some contributors were cared for by caring and dedicated professionals, others were less fortunate. Despite the diversity of experiences, however, some themes are mentioned repeatedly. Many contributors write of problems caused by the stigma of having suffered from a mental illness. Many express anger at the loss of autonomy entailed by compulsory, or more subtly coercive, treatment.

The accounts included in Speaking Our Minds are extremely moving and provide a real insight into what it is like to be a psychiatric patient. Most of the contributors are easy to empathise with, and the collection provides a real and valuable reminder that people who suffer from mental illness are fundamentally similar to people who don't. For this reason alone the book should be required reading for all those who come into contact with people with mental health problems.

A few of the accounts, however, are by writers who have had extremely bad experiences of mental health care. These contributors describe E.C.T. as a "barbaric" treatment that has left them with permanent brain-damage (Leonard Taylor p 64), talk of having been beaten by nurses on an almost daily basis (John Bell p107), and describe staff who forced whole chips down their throat until they lost consciousness (Rosalind Caplan p143). Without knowing how typical such experiences are, it is difficult to know how to respond to these extremely upsetting accounts. Here more editorial comment would have been useful. If such abuses of power regularly occur on psychiatric wards then such accounts might appropriately motivate one to campaign against the psychiatric establishment, and to avoid psychiatric treatment of oneself like the plague. If, on the other hand, the accounts describe isolated incidents then, although one would still sympathise with those who have had bad experiences, there may be no reason to think that current psychiatric practice needs radical reform. In order to make it clear what such accounts can tell us about psychiatric care I would have liked to have been given some indication of how frequently patients find psychiatric care abusive. Despite this limitation, however, Speaking Our Minds is an excellent collection and I strongly recommend it to anyone with an interest in mental health issues.

Rachel Cooper is a lecturer in the Department of Interdisciplinary Human Studies, Bradford University, England. She has research interests in the philosophy of science, especially psychiatry, and in 20th century history of psychiatry.


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