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Mad In America: Bad Science, Bad Medicine, And The Enduring Mistreatment Of The Mentally Ill

4.13  ·  Rating Details ·  1,456 Ratings  ·  108 Reviews
Schizophrenics in the United States currently fare worse than patients in the world’s poorest countries. In Mad in America, medical journalist Robert Whitaker argues that modern treatments for the severely mentally ill are just old medicine in new bottles, and that we as a society are deeply deluded about their efficacy. The widespread use of lobotomies in the 1920s and 19
Kindle Edition, 370 pages
Published (first published January 3rd 2002)
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Feb 26, 2011 jo rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone who has to deal with their or others' mental issues
this is a grim but i think mandatory history of psychiatry in america. it seems to me that, at this time, the people we can truly trust when it comes to exploring mental health culture are investigative journalists. this book is not kind to psychiatry, and i think this is exactly as it should be. whitaker documents painstakingly every assertion he makes and shows us a discipline that was born wrongly and retains to this day the misguidedness of its roots. i don't know about other countries (ther ...more
Isha Ali
Jun 26, 2016 Isha Ali rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, medicine
A very interesting and shocking account of how psychiatry, more specifically the treatment of schizophrenia has changed over the years. This is a very important book about how the limitations in science and how the society has contributed to the mistreatment of the mentally ill.
Horrifying was the treatment of the mentally ill back in the day. Bleeding to the point of fainting; induced vomiting; swinging chairs; bath of surprise; drowning to the point of near death; removal of the uterus, ovaries
Snehal Bhagat
Mar 08, 2009 Snehal Bhagat rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A historical account of how the mentally ill have been treated, with an emphasis on the treatment in America.

Rarely does a title describe a book so well. The treatment of the mentally ill has been marred by bad science throughout; historically plagued with abominable practices such as whipping and bloodletting, even in its golden hour in the 20th century, the mentally ill were "(being) described as a degenerate strain of humanity, "social wastage"..."defective germ plasm".." and in keeping with
Jeff Randall
Jul 12, 2011 Jeff Randall rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Such an important book, that looks at how we have treated mentally ill folks through the centuries. An inside look at psychiatry's dirty secrets, and an exploration of where science, corporate interests (drug companies, doctors) and the mentally ill individuals intersect and interact. Whitaker has been demonized as a heretic for daring to question the efficacy of studies supporting the drugs we are increasingly ingesting and wonders why if they are effective relapse rates increase for those medi ...more
Feb 14, 2016 Brin rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2016
Although I consider myself fairly aware of the horrific historic and current state of mental health treatment in America, this book still left me shocked beyond words. I tried to tell myself that the abuse described in the text was and is born from a lack of understanding about how to engage with and treat this population. Yet, I could not keep myself from questioning how a society can act with so little compassion. This text is a reminder that when we are angry about something, it is our job no ...more
Mar 21, 2011 Kyrie rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: psychiatry, medicine
This book was referenced by the author of "Shutter Island". It tells the history of mental treatment in America from the Quakers who tried to cure madness with gentle treatment to the drugs prescribed today. Some of it is frightening and terrible. Towards the end the author focused solely on schizophrenia and the drugs used to treat it. I would have found it more interesting if other psychiatric issues were addressed, but perhaps they're too many to mention. The author feels there is a vast cons ...more
Mar 30, 2013 Kurt rated it really liked it
This work contains plenty of interesting facts about the advancements in the treatment of schizophrenics (in particular) in the U.S. health care system. That being said, the eventual condition of an all-encompassing "system" in the world of treatment was for these unfortunate souls a nasty development. It was enlightening to read that the treatment methods employed in the 19th century were much more closely related to those we now consider most humane and effective. (The "One Flew Over a Cuckoo' ...more
Oct 02, 2013 Sammie rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: psychology majors
Shelves: psychology
I am not sure how to rate this book honestly. The author did very well at putting this book together. However, I am not sure if I should "like" the book because I did not enjoy reading about the horrific treatment of people with mental illness. But I am grateful to have this knowledge about how these people were treated. It upsets me about what these people were put through, but on the other hand I am contemplating on whether or not I believe it was necessary in order to get to where we are toda ...more
Sep 14, 2015 Chuck rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
In the Preface to "Mad in America," the author points to a startling fact, that over the past twenty-five years, outcomes for people suffering with schizophrenia in the U.S. have worsened. More than 2 million Americans suffer with schizophrenia. Many end up homeless, in prisons, or in and out of psychiatric hospitals. Schizophrenia is estimated to cost the U.S. more than $45 billion annually. These facts led Whitaker to ask, "If the medications work so well, then why do 'schizophrenics' fare so ...more
Aug 20, 2010 Emily rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Details the treatment of mental illness for the past several hundred years. Interesting & sometimes shocking to read about some of the approaches that have been tried. I think one of the author's purposes was to make the psychopharmacological treatments of the last few decades seem just as ineffective and brutal as those from the past. Somewhat interesting, but got really boring/academic when it got to lobotomy & drug treatments.
Apr 05, 2012 Kaye rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book gives an overview of some of the more horrific treatments for the mentally ill in America's history. It starts out with Benjamin Rush and his "gyrator", moving all the way to pharmaceuticals in present day. The eugenics movement of the 1930s is also covered (although not in depth). I have a fascination with the medical practices of the 18th and 19th centuries, and this work describes some shockers very well, indeed.
Dec 02, 2014 Wileyacez rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I read this thanks to an uncle suffering not only from bi-polar disorder, but also from the effects of many years of taking the various drugs associated with relief of his symptoms. This was a great, albeit heartbreaking, story of how the mentally ill have been treated throughout history, the rise of the medical profession and psychiatry's place in that profession, and the rise of the pharmaceutical juggernaut. When I see my uncle, I see someone who fell into a trap of looking for a miracle cure ...more
Liz Mourant
Jul 25, 2011 Liz Mourant rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This history of the treatment of madness in times leading up to our own backwards treatment of "mental illness" is a true wonder of scholarship and impartiality. True, the author shows science to be largely a sham concocted by those who speak and act "in the name of a science run amok," but he doesn't outright dismiss their findings-- he shows us the fairly obvious flaws and barbarism inherent in many acts perpertraited on the so-called "mad" in the name of progress and for anyone interested in ...more
Sep 05, 2016 Heather rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
I'm giving this 4 stars because it was really interesting and thought provoking. It's a history of the treatment of the mentally ill, especially schizophrenics. Bottom line - the only time and place where treatment was humane and effective was with the Quakers in the 1700's. The author recounts so many ways over the centuries that the mentally ill have been abused and used as unwilling guinea pigs. The first half of the 1900's during the eugenics craze was especially horrifying. I will never und ...more
Mar 11, 2015 Veronica rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Who should read this??? Really? Probably everyone! The beginning was better than the 2nd half, but it was very enlightening to read about the progression of "madness" throughout the years in America. The fact that no one can agree on the diagnosis of Schizophrenia and that the medications vary so wildly is amzing. The fact that the medications may be worse than the disorder is something witnessed daily in the mental health field.

Not written like a text book and therefore easy to get into. The 2n
Nov 06, 2010 Emily rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, meridian
This was a difficult book to read. Like Anne Frank, I tend to believe that people are really good at heart. I assume they have the best intentions. After all, they were doing the best they could with what they knew, right? This book challenged that conviction. I kept envisioning people I love who struggle with various mental illnesses being subjected to the inhumane actions that too often passed for “treatment” in the past: near-starvation diets, electroshock therapy, drugged into a drooling veg ...more
Zach Wener-fligner
Great read. Whitaker digests a huge body of historical and scientific literature to produce this tragic, compelling story of schizophrenia in America.

The case Whitaker builds suggests that the majority of psychiatric patients in the United States have, for the past 50 years, been subjected to treatment that is detrimental to their recovery, as well as immoral and abusive. You'll question any faith you have in the moral infallibility of doctors. You'll be enraged at the corrupt, pseudo-scientific
Apr 02, 2013 Suzanne rated it it was amazing
What did I think? I think the abuse that the mentally ill have suffered over the years is repulsive.
I bookmarked and highlighted many passages to share with my circle. To ignore the hell in which the mentally ill dwell is to turn your back on humanity. I can think of no worse life than that of a person who sought help and basically got turned into a vegetable for my troubles. And that is the least of the worries of those placed on neuroleptics or the "wonder drugs" of today. I am totally not kn
Jessica C.
Aug 19, 2012 Jessica C. rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: great
I'm completely over taken with the amount of information and its reliability. I studied psychology at Pitt, before I hit my breaking point. Do you know how many components can contribute to a nineteen year old girl whom gave up swimming, (she had a scholarship at her first college)the only thing that really mattered in her life. She used drugs and alcohol recklessly, she missed all of her classes because bulimia (when she wanted to photograph her puke as an art form), got more results than say, ...more
Patricia Weenolsen
Mad in America: Bad Science, Bad Medicine, and the Enduring Mistreatment of the Mentally Ill, by Robert Whitaker, Basic Books, 2010 Revised Edition. Originally published in 2002.

Mad in America is a searing indictment of our failure to relieve the suffering of the mentally ill and their families.
In the interest of fair disclosure, I am a psychologist and have spent much of my life studying mental illness, teaching about it, counseling, and writing, mainly in the areas of Death and Dying and oth
Jennifer W
Holy cow. Talk about cognitive dissonance. I've spent years of my life, since high school in fact, believing that mental illnesses are chemical imbalances in the brain and that we have drugs to treat them. Evidence presented herein disputes that and states that we may be worse off precisely because we are treating the mentally ill with medications. Some studies presented suggest that people on antipsychotics recover at the same rate as people in the "old days" when they were treated with ice wat ...more
Jul 17, 2015 Mary rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: bookclub
First of all, I will say I came into this with a misconception about what the book was about. That misconception was quickly thrown to the way side. While I understand the importance of such literature and history, I find it depressing to read. A lot of the treatments for the mentally ill I had heard of before through either psych classes or my own research, so there wasn't a shock value to this as there may have been for others. However, I found myself looking for something redeeming in all of ...more
No rating. A very lack-luster attempt on my part. If it takes me an hr to read 25 pages... its just not gonna happen for another page! My opinion would maybe be different if I was really interested in the field, or if it was for schooling. So, sorry book club! My first and only INTENTIONAL Dnf.
Jul 17, 2011 Colette rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Everyone
One of the most Important books I've read this year. At times disturbing, heartbreaking, maddening (pun intended), but I'm so glad I read it. Intricately researched, and written with loads of compassion and common sense.

My boiled-down takeaway: If you or a loved one have a psychotic break or are diagnoses with psychosis or "schizophrenia," DO NOT take conventional "antipsychotics"/neuroleptics (ie Thorazine, Haldol/halperidol, Prolixin) or the newer "atypical" "antipsychotics," no matter what t
Jun 07, 2016 Joseph rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Excellent read that should be a prerequisite for anyone entering the health field. The hubris of American medicine serves no purpose to benefit the patients we serve, and acknowledging the mistakes of the past will hopefully prevent history from repeating itself in the mistreatment of those with mental illness.
Aug 30, 2010 Kate rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Fabulously interesting evaluation of mental health treatment from the earliest days of chained crazies through moral therapy, fear treatments, water treatments, lobotomy, pills and more. This is a nice complement to the author's more recent Anatomy of an Epidemic, but while that book questions the current science as Science, this one questions the humane-ness as well as effectiveness of current and former treatments. The role of cost in health care and the someone-else's-problem switcheroo of ta ...more
May 15, 2015 KVB1 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book puts the treatment of mental health patients in perspective. While it singles out schizophrenia, it is clear that the development of treatment for all mental illness is based on poor science and practices. It's sad to see such poor treatment of people in the United States, where we tout our compassionate treatment of individuals; and it is sad to see how recent some of the mistreatment is. It makes me think twice about big pharma and the profiteering from treatments that sound good, bu ...more
Oct 15, 2014 Katie rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
There is a lot of interesting information here, but it's repetitive, somewhat poorly organized, and perhaps even a bit skewed in certain areas. Though I am in agreement with the great majority of what the author says, I have the distinct feeling that something was left out somewhere along the way. Still, there are many jaw dropping facts worth knowing. They are, sadly, a part of American history - more recent history than most of us may realize.

This book is solely about Schizophrenia, which of
Jun 03, 2008 Joolie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: those with mental illness, mental illness in family or friends
Shelves: health, history
a solid account of modern history of mental illness "treatment" in the west (Europe/U.S). Touches on religious manifestations of mental illness treatment, (that mental illness is a product of demon posession or of a great sin) and mass criminalization and warehousing of the mentally ill, but mainly focuses on the medicalization of mental illness in the 19th century. From quaker/shaker community care treatments and medical establishment horrific water treatments to modern lobotomies, shock treatm ...more
McArthur Library Staff Picks
Well written and a nice read, which maybe is weird for a book like this. Eye-opening and informative history of the treatment of the mentally ill in England and America; very interesting if you would like to learn more about the relationships between psychology, drug companies, hospitals and the mentally ill in the U.S.
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Robert Whitaker, a journalist, writes primarily about medicine and science. He is the author of four books: Mad in America, The Mapmaker's Wife, On the Laps of Gods and Anatomy of an Epidemic.

His newspaper and magazine articles on the mentally ill and the pharmaceutical industry have garnered several national awards, including a George Polk Award for medical writing and a National Association of S
More about Robert Whitaker...

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“The evaluation of the merits of medical treatments for madness has always been a calculation made by doctors and, to a certain extent, by society as a whole. Does the treatment provide a method for managing disturbed people? That is the usual bottom line. The patient’s subjective response to the treatment—does it help the patient feel better or think more clearly?—simply doesn’t count in that evaluation. The “mad,” in fact, are dismissed as unreliable witnesses. How can a person crazy in mind possibly appreciate whether a treatment—be it Rush’s gyrator, a wet pack, gastrointestinal surgery, metrazol convulsive therapy, electroshock, or a neuroleptic—has helped? Yet to the person so treated, the subjective experience is everything.” 0 likes
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