Carter's Reviews > The Lives They Left Behind: Suitcases from a State Hospital Attic

The Lives They Left Behind by Darby Penney
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's review
Oct 02, 2008

it was ok
Read in October, 2008

The individual narratives of patients lost forever to the asylum-based mental health system are moving & deeply disturbing. But the overall approach by the authors is far too biased to match the stories they're telling.

The book basically contends that its subjects were never really mentally ill, just tossed into Willard State Hospital because they didn't fit within societal norms -- and kept there until death because their labor was essential to the hospital's low-cost survival. Certainly there's some truth to this, but the authors push it so far that it ends up reading more like denial of mental illness as a real medical problem.

Obviously the writers have some serious complaints with America's mental health care system, as they should. But the system's flaws don't mean there's no such thing as insanity.
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message 1: by HGC (new) - rated it 4 stars

HGC I disagree on the assertion that the subjects were never really mentally ill. The book is noting, and yes condemning, the limitations of the mental health care system, not maintaining that there's no such thing as insanity.

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