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The Insanity Offense: How America's Failure to Treat the Seriously Mentally Ill Endangers Its Citizens
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The Insanity Offense: How America's Failure to Treat the Seriously Mentally Ill Endangers Its Citizens

3.81  ·  Rating details ·  170 Ratings  ·  30 Reviews
Beginning in the 1960s in the United States, scores of patients with severe psychiatric disorders were discharged from public mental hospitals. At the same time, activists forced changes in commitment laws that made it impossible to treat half of the patients that left the hospital. The combined effect was profoundly destructive. Today, among homeless persons, at least one ...more
Hardcover, 288 pages
Published June 17th 2008 by W. W. Norton Company (first published June 16th 2008)
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Mary Ronan Drew
Jan 28, 2011 rated it it was amazing
More than 50% of “rampage killers,” men (they are almost always men) like the one who killed more than 30 people at Virginia Tech a few years ago and the one who recently killed five people and grievously wounded Representative Gabrielle Giffords and several others in Arizona, are seriously mentally ill. More than 60% of men who kill their own children and 75% - that’s three out of four – women who kill their children are seriously mentally ill. More than 10% of the prisoners in American jails a ...more
Mar 08, 2015 rated it did not like it
Shelves: 2015
I need to talk about this book.

I got about halfway through before I got too annoyed to finish. Initially, I picked up the book because it's something I'm interested in and support. I don't think people with mental disorders get enough help and are stigmatized; so hey there's this book! Well, let me tell you, I was constantly making this face :| Not only was the author NOT discussing how treatments would improve society at large and the individuals receiving better and affordable (and let's be ho
Dec 14, 2009 rated it liked it
really a 3.5/5
Torrey makes excellent points about how the closing of so many state mental institutions in the 70s, due to misguidedness by both right and left (the right believed that mental illness didn't exist and the left felt that people had the right to be crazy if they wanted to...somewhat simplified...), has led to the huge increase in homelessness and imprisonment of the mentally ill. What he had to say would have made a very effective magazine of journal article, but in a 200 page book
William Schram
Jun 18, 2017 rated it really liked it
The sad thing about the mental health problem is that people don't admit to having one.

In this book, E Fuller Torrey discusses the situation that people with severe mental illness go through, and it is infuriating. In many cases, all of the signs were there for someone to be hospitalized, but since so many bleeding hearts in the 1960s and 70s wanted to close state-run mental health facilities, many people were left with no place else to go but the streets and low-income housing. Not only were th
Hannah M.
Apr 30, 2011 rated it really liked it
In the 1960s there were two big things happening in US society. First, there were civil rights movements, and second, states and the government needed money. There began one of the largest problems seen on the streets of America today. Though most experts at the time believed that deinstitutionalization was the right way to go, no one seemed to think of the long term consequences this movement might have. Civil rights advocates argued that involuntary commitment was inhumane and that the laws sh ...more
This was a very exciting read. The author makes it seem as if there were an untreated schizophrenic lurking behind every tree, armed with a loaded gun or at least a board with a nail through it, waiting to kill me if I leave my house. The book focuses almost entirely on homicides committed by people who have refused treatment for schizophrenia, as if the plague of suicides, property crimes and miscellaneous domestic violence exacerbated by mental illness were not much bigger and more pressing pr ...more
Jan 09, 2013 rated it really liked it
This is a well documented -- but heartbreaking -- book about the history of health care and legal protections for criminally insane individuals in the United States.

It is a well written book with chapter notes and a thorough index; the author makes a complicated topic easy to understand. But he also provides example (after example, after example) of individuals and families whose lives have been devastated, firstly by mental illness and secondly by a legal system that insists on protecting the
Jeff Brailey
Aug 20, 2008 rated it really liked it
In the mid 1960s, America began emptying and closing its mental hospitals, all in the name of civil rights. California was the first state to do so and by the mid 1980s, the other 49 states had followed suit.

The author calls this "one of the great social disasters in recent American history." It has created at least 175,000 homeless mentally ill men and women in this country, many of whom become victims of violence -- muggings, rapes, murders. Many of these same mentally ill are responsible for
A welcome corrective to overly libertarian public policy toward the mentally ill
Picture a small county in Texas, 25,000 population, with only one special confinement cell and no specially trained sheriff's deputies.

Picture a severely bipolar young man, with other mental health diagnoses as well, such as PTSD, on parole from a manslaughter convictioon (he may or may not have committed) assaulting his mother and stepfather.

Picture him now locked away here, literally trying to bash his head against
Sep 13, 2008 rated it liked it
An interesting book - and on a topic with which I regularly deal in my work. I am often frustrated by the limitations on involuntary treatment, especially here in Seattle where the laws are very stringent and lean in favor of individual liberties as opposed to treatment - and in my work with the most severely ill folks, many of whom have a history of violence toward themselves or others. So I certainly agree with the bulk of Torrey's assertion that this is a serious problem. However, I was troub ...more
Caitlin Boyd
Nov 19, 2013 rated it did not like it
Shelves: couldn-t-finish
This book is horseshit. The only good thing it does is point out how difficult it is for people with severe mental illness to receive services. More importantly, it also takes the asinine stance that all people with severe mental illness are dangerous, homicidal time bombs waiting to go off. The author presents numerous stories of individuals who have committed terrible acts, such as killing, at times in response to delusional thinking. Unfortunately, he then uses these anecdotal stories to sugg ...more
Jan 29, 2009 rated it did not like it
Shelves: unfinished
I had to read 5 chapters of this book for a class and I have no desire to finish. The author makes the valid point that people with severe mental illness cannot get the mental health care they need, which often results in them becoming homeless or put in jail. However, he seems to be arguing that forced medication is the answer in order to protect the general public. Several of his chapters focus on violence perpetrated by people with severe mental illness, buttressed by newspaper headlines and ...more
Jan 09, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction, 2013
I had requested this book at my library before the school shootings in Connecticut. We should all read it to better understand why this type of shootings/killings are taking place in the United States.

Torrey begins with the history of deinstitutionalization of mentally ill patients that began in California in the 1950s. There are stories about specific people and events illustrating the laws and statistics presented in the book. The thesis of the book is that potentially violent, diagnosed, ment
Jul 12, 2008 rated it liked it
My experience growing up with a bipolar foster sister confirms the author's thesis that our failure to treat the seriously mentally ill hurts everyone in our society. According to the author (and confirmed by my sister's life), the three most frequent outcomes for mentally ill people today are: 1) homelessness, 2) criminal activity/incarceration, 3) homicide/suicide. My question remains: if our judicial system acquits mentally ill people of egregious crimes based on the fact that their mental st ...more
Jul 31, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfic, crime
Torrey, a renowned expert on schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, poses an extremely controversial question that few will say out loud: Is it ethical to allow people who are actively psychotic to simply deteriorate because they will not seek treatment willingly? This book's answer is a resounding No, but despite your own answer, it's a necessary read for anyone engaged in the debate over that question. Though it weighs heavy on what Torrey terms "preventable tragedies" (the murders of others by a ...more
Oct 17, 2008 added it
I have a profession where I must believe that people have the capacity to change their behaviors. Do all people have the capacity to control their behaviors? No. This book outlines the scary changes that occured since mentally ill were taken out of institutions. The focus is on the legislative and follow-up social changes in the state of California.

A summer 2009 study of 8000 schizophrenic people between 1793 and 2006 showed no significant relationship between violent crime and mental illness. T
Jake Lepper
Sep 05, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A well written and shocking exposé on the failure of the deinstitutionalization movement of the 60's that left our country's mental health system in shambles under the guise of "civil liberties." Really illustrates the importance of mental healthcare. This line from the book sums it up perfectly: "Uninformed calls to protect civil liberties betray a profound misunderstanding of that term. There is nothing "civil" about leaving people lost to disease to live homeless on the streets suffering rape ...more
Jan 26, 2010 rated it really liked it
This was a pretty wild read... It's a collection of vignettes about individuals with severe mental illness who have committed crimes. It's a bit scary for me as a future intern, but alas, many of the stories reflect failures of the mental health system to medicate individuals and to commit them when necessary. I still feel that client's rights are central and even after just two weeks of internship, I can see how these tragedies occur. Sigh - tricky business.
Doris A.
Feb 04, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Okay, the author founded my employer, and I needed to read the book for work. But, along with former WashPost reporter Pete Earley's "Crazy," this is essential reading for anyone interested in how America has replaced its mental hospitals with jail and prison cells.
Nov 22, 2009 rated it really liked it
Why are there so many insane people living on the street? Because Reagan closed down most of the long-term psych hospitals in the 80's.
There are also remarkable stories included of families who tried to get their relatives help, to no avail, and the tragedies that resulted.
Michael Thomas Angelo
Sep 01, 2009 rated it it was amazing
I was born as a result of the upheaval that took place as it was described in this book. My biological mother was a patient at Agnew Insane Asylym during the period of deinstitutionalization, I was fascinated to learn the details of what took p;ace around my birth and adoption.
May 05, 2012 rated it liked it

Although the author makes a cogent argument for involuntary commitment, it was difficult to finish. I found myself bored after the 5th chapter but forced myself to finish the remainder of the book.
Jan 27, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Shhhh... it's a secret. This is the truth. So, shhhh...
I wish I could mandate every polititian and every screen writer, every journalist and every mental health care worker to read this. You all are welcome, too.
Dave Rankin
Jan 24, 2016 rated it really liked it
If you wondered why there are so many untreated mentally ill roaming America's streets, filling America's jails, and living lives of untreated hell for themselves and others, this book provides the answer. It also suggests a solution. Well worth reading.
Lisa Moore
Sep 01, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Fantastic book! If you want to know details of why the mental health system has failed and is still failing us today... read this book!
Oct 22, 2008 rated it really liked it
I'm trying to figure out shat I think of expanding involuntary commitment. This book, and Refusing Care take on this topic.
Diane C.
Jul 27, 2009 rated it really liked it
A bit overbearing but still important book about the way we "treat" the mentally ill in our country.
rated it it was ok
Jan 27, 2009
Camille Willoughby
rated it it was amazing
Jan 01, 2017
rated it liked it
Mar 23, 2009
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