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Mad in America: Bad Science, Bad Medicine and the Enduring Mistreatment of the Mentally Ill
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Mad in America: Bad Science, Bad Medicine and the Enduring Mistreatment of the Mentally Ill

4.13  ·  Rating details ·  1,604 Ratings  ·  125 Reviews
In Mad in America, medical journalist Robert Whitaker reveals an astounding truth: Schizophrenics in the United States currently fare worse than patients in the world's poorest countries, and quite possibly worse than asylum patients did in the early nineteenth century. With a muckraker's passion, Whitaker argues that modern treatments for the severely mentally ill are jus ...more
Paperback, 334 pages
Published April 17th 2003 by Basic Books (first published January 3rd 2002)
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Feb 26, 2010 rated it it was amazing
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
Snehal Bhagat
Jan 30, 2009 rated it really liked it
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
Sep 06, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: library-books
Well this was just jaw-dropping ... Not only a study of how schizophrenia has been treated and managed in the US, but also views it through a sociological/historical/political lens. There are some treatments here straight out of one of the Saw movies, and it frustrates me that the treatment of mental health conditions has gone backwards in so many regards. Who do we blame for this? The book points the finger at drug companies: once again, it's all about money. But I suppose as long as consumers ...more
Jeff Randall
Jul 12, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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
Jan 18, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: medicine
There are so many things that I could say about this book, but... I will simply say this... Just read it. And after you read it, watch the film Food Inc. for good measure.
Mar 13, 2011 rated it liked it
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
Isha Ali
May 26, 2016 rated it really liked it
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
Dec 02, 2014 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
Aug 13, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Sep 07, 2013 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
Jul 24, 2011 rated it really liked it
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
Feb 09, 2016 rated it really liked it
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 24, 2012 rated it really liked it
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.
Kozmo Kliegl
Oct 21, 2010 rated it it was amazing
A wake-up call to get as far away from psychiatric medications, they cause more problems than they help and leads to life-long dependence on them not to mention needing to take more insalubriuos meds to counter the health problem they create
Jan 04, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Basically the history of psychiatry in America. Shocking and gruesome and incredibly useful. I already think of psychiatrists as quacks, but I didn't know they had such a violent history of quackery. Wow.
Natasha Pratley
Mar 15, 2017 rated it it was amazing
An extremely interesting history of mental health in America, particularly noteworthy for its observations on how societal attitudes and economic factors influenced treatment.
Debbie Morrison
The book “Mad in America” by Robert Whitaker is not Mad Science but an account of how science has been manipulated to serve the needs of pharmaceutical companies, medical and psychiatric associations as well as the reputations of countless medical experts, all at the expense of thousands of patients’ health and wellbeing. It’s a disturbing read. It makes the reader mad—angry at how we, the laypeople, have been fed the myth of the ‘broken brain’ that only medication can ‘fix’; medications like SS ...more
Jan 29, 2017 rated it really liked it
Mental illness is one of the most complex struggles I can conceive. For the individual and society. For start, even calling it an “illness” suggests that we understand it primarily as a biological process; a subtle shift in terminology which may, ironically, impede recovery.

Whitaker focuses on the history of schizophrenia treatment in the United States. Beginning with the “moral treatment” the Quakers used in respite homes and, subsequently, employed at Pennsylvania Hospital. However, it did no
Liz Mourant
Mar 04, 2011 rated it really liked it
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
Jessica C.
Jul 19, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
Mar 26, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Kent Winward
Jul 03, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Whitaker tells a chilling history of psychiatric medication in the United States that reminds us that we aren't nearly as advanced as we might like to think. Our advances have been in making our brutality only appear to be more humane. Now instead of attacking someone's brain with an ice pick, we charge them $900 a month for the privilege of using pharmaceutical ice picks on their own brain.

Of all the healthcare discussions our country needs to have, figuring out how to get medicine out of the p
Jul 20, 2010 rated it it was ok
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.
Patricia Weenolsen
May 31, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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
Nov 02, 2010 rated it liked it
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
Nov 19, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
Art Levine
Dec 24, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: mental-illness
I thought it was a great book,and it was an inspiration for my own new book, Mental Health, Inc., that comes with an endorsement from Robert Whitaker. Here's a blog post giving an overview of the book, and my appearance today on John Fugelsang's Sirius XM show tell me anything, about five minutes in:

Here's John Fugelsang referencing my book on his Facebook page and posting a link to my Newsweek article about an abu
Jennifer W
Sep 01, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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
Jun 20, 2010 rated it really liked it
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 14, 2011 rated it really liked it
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
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Goodreads Librari...: Please add page count 5 13 Aug 17, 2017 04:19AM  
  • Agnes's Jacket: A Psychologist's Search for the Meanings of Madness
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  • The Myth of Sanity: Divided Consciousness and the Promise of Awareness
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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...
“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.” 1 likes
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