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Book Reviews   |    
First Person Accounts of Mental Illness and Recovery

edited by Craig Winston LeCroy, and Jane Holschuh; Hoboken, New Jersey, John Wiley and Sons, 2012, 480 pages

Reviewed by Jeffrey L. Geller, M.D., M.P.H.
Psychiatric Services 2014; doi: 10.1176/appi.ps.650106
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Dr. Geller, who is the book review editor, is facility medical director, Worcester Recovery Center and Hospital, and professor, Department of Psychiatry, University of Massachusetts Medical School, Worcester.

The book First Person Accounts of Mental Illness and Recovery is an edited text of 60 accounts and another in a growing list of such books. To be worth the effort such a book must blaze new ground. Unfortunately, this tome does not.

Collections of first-person accounts have been edited chronologically, such as Peterson’s A Mad People’s History of Madness (1); by theme, such as Geller and Harris’ Women of the Asylum (2); and by diagnosis, such as Landis and Mettler’s Varieties of Psychopathological Experience (3). LeCroy and Holschuh follow the diagnostic organizational scheme.

Two-thirds of the accounts are by women. Most were previously published; of the seven accounts of schizophrenia or schizoaffective disorder, all were published in Schizophrenia Bulletin between 2000 and 2011; five of the eight accounts of depression and bipolar disorder were published before; none of the accounts of cognitive disorders, somatoform disorders, dissociative disorders, sexual and gender identity disorders, and obsessive-compulsive disorder are original. The sections on posttraumatic stress disorder and eating disorders contain all-original contributions.

What is most unusual about this collection, and a feature not pointed out by the editors, is that it is a book of predominantly middle-class, well-educated writers. Twenty-three authors have a college degree; 13 are in or have graduated from a degree program beyond college. The contributors include a doctoral-level researcher, an Olympic athlete, a college chemistry professor, an attorney, a marine major, an author, a physician, a nurse, a social worker, and professors in other fields. Eight of the contributors work in the mental health field.

The authors are more likely than not to come from homes with supportive parents or are parents themselves. Grandparents are frequently involved. They are more likely to have had a stay at the Betty Ford Clinic than at a state hospital, more likely to have been on a ski vacation in Europe than to be homeless.

Not only are the authors a select group of individuals with mental illnesses; in focusing on recovery, the editors have mostly chosen only individuals with good insight who are well engaged in treatment and who have a message to direct to the reader. Few are just telling their own story.

Certainly the folks I see in the state hospital and in the community mental health center are never in a position to say, as one author does, “Through my disorder, I have discovered a passion for neurology and psychology. I plan to go to medical school after college and become double-certified in neurology and psychiatry.”

There are many compilations of first-person accounts far more useful than this one. Many of these can be obtained used or online, for a fraction of the cost of this book. For whatever purpose you might use a collection of first-person accounts, seek out some of the books published well before First Person Accounts of Mental Illness and Recovery.

The reviewer reports no competing interests.

Peterson  D:  A Mad People’s History of Madness .  Pittsburgh,  University of Pittsburgh Press, 1982
Geller  JL;  Harris  M:  Women of the Asylum .  New York,  Doubleday, 1994
Landis  C;  Mettler  F (eds):  Varieties of Psychopathological Experience .  New York,  Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1964
References Container


Peterson  D:  A Mad People’s History of Madness .  Pittsburgh,  University of Pittsburgh Press, 1982
Geller  JL;  Harris  M:  Women of the Asylum .  New York,  Doubleday, 1994
Landis  C;  Mettler  F (eds):  Varieties of Psychopathological Experience .  New York,  Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1964
References Container

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