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Book Review   |    
Helping Someone With Mental Illness: A Compassionate Guide for Family, Friends, and Caregivers
Lisa Dixon, M.D., M.P.H.
Psychiatric Services 1999; doi:
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by Rosalynn Carter with Susan K. Golant; New York City, Times Books, 1998, 348 pages, $24

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Tony Randall, Steven Hyman, Margot Kidder, Betty Ford, Kay Redfield Jamison, Laurie Flynn, Mike Wallace, C. Everett Koop, Joanne Woodward, and Herbert Pardes have all sung the praises of Rosalynn Carter's volume, Helping Someone With Mental Illness. It is a privilege to add my name to the list of people who find this to be a truly compassionate guide for family, friends, and caregivers. The former first lady and cowriter Susan Golant set out to write a book that fights "myths, misconceptions, and stereotypes about mental illnesses" and that provides information, inspiration, and hope for those of us who live with and support persons with mental illness.

Why is this book so effective? The voices of persons with mental illness speak in every chapter. Mrs. Carter weaves these stories and voices with text that melds the feelings and experiences with facts and data. The facts and data are presented in clear, simple language, appropriate both for the uninitiated and for the seasoned veteran of mental illness.

Mrs. Carter traverses the dichotomies of nature versus nurture, of biological versus psychological, with the skill and precision of a slalom skier negotiating narrow turn after narrow turn. Even though I knew the facts and have heard many stories, I could not help but read on. The voices touched and moved me, opening my heart and mind to the information that followed.

The book first addresses stigma. Within that section, the chapters cover issues in seeking treatment for mental illness. The basics of recognizing and coping with mental illness are spelled out: the warning signs, working through denial, and finding the right help. The chapter on what to do "after the diagnosis" addresses issues in the workplace, insurance, and the importance of knowing the legal considerations during potential emergencies.

The second section, called New Treatments, New Hope, focuses on specific illnesses including schizophrenia, depression, manic-depression, and anxiety disorders such as panic disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder. Although the authors emphasize psychopharmacologic and psychosocial treatments, including psychotherapy, they present some information on the causes, epidemiology, and course of these illnesses.

The final section addresses prevention, caregiving, and advocacy. The "emotional dilemmas" of caregiving detail how family members or friends can cope with their guilt and sadness constructively. A series of helpful appendixes includes a listing of other common mental illnesses, a glossary, and other resources.

Mrs. Carter brings us into the world of her experiences in working with people who have mental illnesses and their friends and caregivers. It is a decent, gentle, empathic, and knowledgeable world. Family members, consumers, and other interested people can all benefit from and enjoy this accessible, comprehensive, and sensitive volume.

Dr. Dixon is associate professor in the department of psychiatry at the University of Maryland School of Medicine at Baltimore.




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