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Ben Behind his Voices is a book about one family's journey from the chaos, of Ben's schizophrenia, to hope. The professionally eclectic author, Randye Kaye, is an actress, voice talent, broadcaster, and speaker; she is also the mother of Ben. Readers are informed, in an "Author's Note", that the story recounted by Kaye is true, albeit other than Kaye's full name and the first name of her daughter, Ali, the names of other people, hospitals, schools, and other institutions mentioned in the book have been changed. Readers are informed, additionally, that the events recollected in the memoir were culled from: recorded conversations, Kaye's journals and memory, hospital records, and correspondences with Ben's providers. As Kaye explains (at page 284), she wrote the book not just to share her story with families who may be experiencing a similar situation, but also for families who are not.
The book is comprised, substantively, of multiple, firmly joined strata, encompassing: a stratum of greatly attention gathering facts, sighted by the keen writing eye of Kaye; a cascade of heartfelt emotions, pouring forth with viscerally palpable force from Kaye; and a layer of Kaye's bluntly candid, and insightful, thoughts.
In a cautionary vein, it may be injected that retrospective descriptions of life events, and attendant emotions and thoughts, may lack full congruency with emotions and thoughts at the time when recounted life events actually unfolded.
In substance, and congruently in style, the writing of Kaye is very lay reader friendly.
The book's vast reading appeal indeed extends universally.
Occasional "CHAPTER GUIDEPOSTS", in pithily encapsulated form, either pose questions (with accompanying answers), present information, or else proffer thoughtful suggestions, all tethered tightly in substantive nature to the adjoining book substance. These GUIDEPOSTS imbue the book with quite considerable didactic value.
A "Resources" section, placed structurally after concluding Chapter 23, contributes further to the book's instructiveness. In this didactic enhancing structural appendage, Kaye: comments forthrightly about the helpfulness of the National Alliance on Mental Illness ("NAMI"); provides some book citations (with annotation), germane in substance to mental illness; and identifies some mental health related organizations and websites.
Multitudinous snippets, in the form of quotes drawn anecdotally from real life conversations, copiously suffuse the textual corpus in a substantively very enlivening way.
The substantive composition is enlivened additionally by the pertinent inclusion of excerpts of selected writings of Ben.
Some excerpts of writings of Ali also enliven the book.
A notable strength of the book is its strong potential for focusing readers' attention on a wide gamut of unresolved, and challenging, issues appertaining to schizophrenia, and mental illness more generally.
Some of the uncertainty relates to causation. The issue of what causes schizophrenia (as well as other mental illnesses) remains a challenge for scientists and clinical investigators.
Unsettled issues persist likewise with regard to diagnosis. As the facts recounted anecdotally by Kaye bring poignantly to readers' attention, the early and accurate diagnosing of schizophrenia may be clinically challenging.
Moreover, as Kaye's emotionally riveting narrative makes manifestly clear, severe clinical challenges go beyond diagnosis and reach to attempted treatment of mental illness. Clinically effectual treatment may be vastly complicated if, as Kaye indeed describes with respect to Ben, there is suspected noncompliance regarding prescribed medicines.
Even if there is compliance with a prescribed drug regimen (in Ben's case, importantly including the prescribing of Clozaril), psychiatric medications may have potential clinical benefits as well as possible adverse side effects.
Kaye's very well detailed efforts to do everything she possibly could to help her beloved son Ben in his grave struggle with schizophrenia also alert readers to possible issues residing contentiously at the interface of mental health and the law.
For example, the narrative information presented anecdotally by Kaye may foment thoughtful interest concerning the issue of what are, or should be (from a legal perspective) the rights of a mentally ill person with respect to refusing medication?
And to the extent that a mentally ill person can refuse medication legally, what about the potential clinical ramifications of the exercising of such a legal right?
In a different mental health and the law vein, the question may be injected of whether a mentally ill person can give consent, of a legally informed nature, to psychopharmacological (or to other forms of) treatment for mental illness?
The mental health and the law interface is quite issue laden. In a further vein, it may be asked: What are real life possible strengths and weaknesses of extant law, regarding the involuntary commitment of a mentally ill person?
The illumining flashlight of Kaye's clear sighted candor revealingly illumines the dark area of stigma associated with mental illness. Regarding this disquieting realm, one of the lessons taught by Kaye's fascinating and instructive book is the ongoing societal need to effectually address the issue of mitigating misinformed, stereotypical thinking about schizophrenia and other mental illnesses.
Another lesson taught by Kaye is the significance of effective organizational support to help persons with mental illness, and their family members. At a personal level, Kaye explains (in the book's Resources section) that almost everything she has learned about Ben's illness was sparked, at the very least, by her experience with the Family to Family Education Program, of the NAMI.
Cautious readers may caution that the life experience of every person with mental illness is uniquely personal; and that the life experience of every family member of a person with mental illness is unique, as well.
A cautionary note may also be sounded that the book's contents are not properly a surrogate for the professional counsel of qualified health professionals, regarding individual, real life instances of possible mental illness.
But certainly, lay readers will very likely be held in thrall by Kaye's attention grabbing personal account of her family's journey from the chaos of Ben's schizophrenia to hope.
And at a professional level, the book's contents may especially be of enthralling interest professionally to mental health professionals, and also to legal professionals.
© 2014 Leo Uzych
Leo Uzych (based in Wallingford, PA) earned a law degree, from Temple University; and a master of public health degree, from Columbia University. His area of special professional interest is healthcare. Twitter @LeoUzych