Synopsis: In this strongly stated book, Torrey describes how the formation of the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) took place, accompanied by well-meaning, but ill-planned federal programs for the out-patient care of mentally 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.
My Thoughts: First of all, I think Torrey’s book was too strongly stated. He puts a lot of blame on the US federal government when these same problems with deinstitutionalization and ensuing homelessness/incarceration-of-mentally-ill occurred in other countries around the same time. The book was also long on problems, short on solutions – even in the chapter whose title suggested that solutions would be presented. Despite these flaws, I enjoyed reading American Psychosis. It was full of interesting facts that I didn’t know about what the federal government was doing during the deinstitutionalization of state hospitals.
I give this book 3.5 snowflakes for interesting information and research.