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Dorothea Dix, Mental Health Pioneer June 8, 2013

Posted by Crazy Mermaid in Book Reviews, Dorothea Dix.
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As I was doing research on the history of mental illness, I kept coming up with obscure references to a woman named Dorothea Dix.  She seemed to have a lot to do with treatment of mental illness, but it was difficult to find out much about her. She wasn’t in many of the history books I was reading at the time about mental illness. Who was this woman?  Why hadn’t I ever heard of her?

Dorothea Dix was a teacher who began a second career as an advocate for mentally ill at the age of 39, which was spinster-hood back in the mid 1800’s. She had volunteered to teach Sunday school to a bunch of women inmates at East Cambridge Jail in Massachusetts. What she found there changed her life forever.

She couldn’t believe the horrible conditions the inmates were kept in. There was no distinction made between criminals, mentally retarded, and mentally ill prisoners. All were kept together in filthy conditions.  She asked why the prisoners were kept in such horrible conditions and was told that the insane don’t feel heat or cold (Viney & Zorich 1982).  From that point forward she dedicated her life to improving the lot of the mentally ill.

Earlier in her life, she had befriended two men who became powerful politicians. One was the Governor of Massachusetts. She made extensive and copious notes about the abominable conditions in the jails and reported her findings to the Massachusetts legislature, begging for more money to improve their lot. She got the funding, and after the mental hospitals in Massachusetts were expanded and cleaned up, Dorothea went to the other States and began her method all over again. She was successful in cleaning up the conditions of the mentally ill in the United States, and then went to Europe and did the same thing.  All in all, her contribution to improving the treatment of the mentally ill was enormous.                                                                                             

The reason we can’t find much about her in the history books was because she avoided the spotlight, refusing to take public credit for her work. Despite the extensive funding she managed to secure for hospitals, she refused to have any named after her. She refused to have her name on most of her publications. She was embarrassed if anyone tried to express gratitude for her work and its effect on their lives. And the medical community hasn’t recognized her in general because they think she doesn’t deserve acclaim because she didn’t contribute to our understanding of the nature of mental disorders. Regardless of history’s treatment of her, we owe her a great debt.

In April of this year, a new book by Jane Kirkpatric came out about this amazing woman. Available through Amazon, the site address is as follows:  http://www.amazon.com/One-Glorious-Ambition-Compassionate-ebook/dp/B009MYATDI/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1370709851&sr=1-1&keywords=one+glorious+ambition+the+compassionate+crusade+of+dorothea+dix#reader_B009MYATDI.  I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.


Book Review: Surviving Manic Depression by E. Fuller Torrey September 3, 2012

Posted by Crazy Mermaid in Bipolar Disorder, Book Reviews.
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I just finished reading Surviving Manic Depression: A Manual on Bipolar Disorder for Patients, Families, and Providers by E. Fuller Torrey, M.D. and Michael B. Knable, D.O.   I’ve read books devoted to exploring Bipolar Disorder, but none of them hold a candle to this one.  I heard about this book when a gentleman from NAMI graciously provided me with the name of this book after I asked him how Manic Depression re-branded itself to “Bipolar Disorder”.  Dr. Torrey meticulously wades through society’s current beliefs, making a compelling argument that Manic-Depressive is a more accurate term and should be brought back into general use.  Besides providing an excellent platform for his argument, the book delivers on many different levels.

I found my hardcover copy at Amazon.com, for about $4 plus $4 in shipping in the Used Books section.  The publication date of my copy is 2003, but there is a 2005 paperback version that I can’t speak to. Anyone with information on the newer book is welcome to send me your thoughts. I’d love to hear them.

Dr. Torry wrote his first book on Schizophrenia (which I haven’t read yet), which qualifies him to compare the two illnesses with authority.  He takes advantage of his knowledge to bring his audience on an expedition to explore those differences in great depth.  When I finished the book, I had a better working knowledge of Schizophrenia, which I wasn’t expecting from a book on Manic Depression.

My only complaint is that he doesn’t really get into depth on definitions until Chapter 3, and I would have liked to see that done right up front in Chapter 1.

Risk factors, causes, medications, and treatment strategies are all areas I’ve found in other books, but this one is done better than most I’ve read. He uses the lens of the Scientific Method to standardize knowledge, allowing him to easily gut some of the urban myths that have grown up around Manic Depression, while moving others from that urban myth category into reality. No sleight-of-hand here.

The coup d’gras is the appendix section. It’s amazing. He’s done a review on every major book I’ve ever heard of having to do with manic depression as well as on ones I never would have known about any other way. He’s reviewed websites, and in the process opened my eyes up to organizations I’ve never heard of but want to explore now that I know about them.  This part, at the very end of the book, is worth the price of the book. He wraps up the book by declaring that we need a 21st century Dorothea Dix- someone to research and meticulously take note of the existing system and shine a public spotlight on the broken parts.  I couldn’t agree more.