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Voluntary Madness: My Year Lost and Found in the Loony Bin

3.41  ·  Rating details ·  3,309 Ratings  ·  410 Reviews
The journalist who famously lived as a man commits herself- literally

Norah Vincent's New York Times bestselling book, Self-Made Man, ended on a harrowing note. Suffering from severe depression after her eighteen months living disguised as a man, Vincent felt she was a danger to herself. On the advice of her psychologist she committed herself to a mental institution. Out of

Hardcover, 304 pages
Published December 30th 2008 by Penguin Group (USA) (first published January 1st 2008)
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Jan 23, 2009 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Not nearly as interesting as the premise suggests, and probably the only memoir I've ever read where the author exhibits absolutely no sense of humour. The book was as dry as dry can be. I think the book would have been more interesting if it really had been an outsider's account of life in a mental institution, but instead, the book quickly becomes an account of Vincent's own battle with depression. Speaking as someone who's suffered depression for the past decade, I can assure you that it's no ...more
Aug 01, 2011 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I almost never give up on books without finishing, but after suffering through a little over sixty pages of this garbage, I tossed it aside. The basic idea of the book is intriguing - a journalist checks herself into three psychiatric facilities in an effort to get a close look at mental health treatment in the United States today. I bought my bargain-priced copy of this book because my brother is a psychiatrist, because I am a public defender who has many clients who spend significant periods o ...more
E.D. Martin
Apr 04, 2012 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Maybe I'm just as biased as the author, one of the "well-loved children of the upper middle class" - I majored in psychology, and I work with predominately indigent populations. So from the very start her disdain for psychological research ("I don't accept the terms by which mental illness is currently defined" - and your background is in what? Just because a layman doesn't understand or believe something *coughevolutioncoughglobalwarmingcough* doesn't mean it's not true) and for people seeking ...more
May 29, 2012 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
This was an incredibly difficult book to read. If I had to narrow down the long list of adjectives for the author that crossed my mind as I read, I would have to put "loathsome", "arrogant", and "unprofessional" at the top of the list. Vincent had zero objectivity and a definite agenda going into this project-- to prove right all her theories about mental illness, the evils of medication, and the incompetence of doctors. These were, of course, theories based on her own bad experience with a ment ...more
I'm doing this in bullet-points only, because if I go in depth, I will end up writing an entire book about a book that definitely doesn't deserve it. While there were moments where the Ms. Vincent made some very good points, this wasn't worth the time. It ended up being one of those books I had to read a chapter or two than walk away from, it irritated me that much. And truly, it wasn't the book itself that bothered me. It was the author and her attitude that I couldn't stand.

- People who suffer
Brittany B.
I read this right when it was released hardcover- so it was a while ago. Ive been trying to remember the name of this book so I could add it, and it just came back to me. (brilliant that I didn't think to check my actual bookshelf)

I read the reviews others wrote and was very surprised how how low the ratings were. I was fascinated with this memoir, for both personal and objective reasons. The author has a mild to medium level of mental illness throughout her life. When this memoir begins, Norah
Mar 28, 2010 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: mental-health
having read her other book and being in the field of mental health, i thought this would be very interesting. unfortunately, the author was under the impression she was objectively evaulating the sytem that treats mental illness but she was actually depressed and dealing with some deep personal issues at the time she tried to do this. it also seems that her background on the topic is woefully uninformed, so instead of being a fascinating new look at the topic, it was just one person's very biase ...more
Aug 21, 2010 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
This book is terrible. I enjoyed The Self Made Man because, though I thought it was an unoriginal premise, it was highly insightful. This piece of garbage lacked everything I liked and had come to hope for from Norah Vincent. Despite immersing herself in "madness" she shows no understanding of mental illness, both of her own and that of others. Her clumsy attempts at probing her own psyche just come off as incredible self absorption, and her comments towards others are so astoundingly superficia ...more
Jul 25, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
As a therapist, I put aside my defensive feelings during the first part of the book when she sounds and seems very angry and aloof (and later admits to that). I still think it is absurd to hospitalize yourself if you don't need it, and most people do know that the hospital is not a place for treatment but for safe stabilization. Otherwise, if you take this book for what it is - one person's journey through her own personal struggle with depression - it is a valuable read. I definitely believe th ...more
"You don't see things how they are. You see them as you are."

Crawling out of your skin, hyper-aware of every thought that rides in with the waves and all but screaming out loud for it to stop as you search every available medicine cabinet, internet chat room and available body in the single hope of escaping. Escape from the despair, the anger, the loneliness and the all-consuming fear that seems to pervade this moment.

More and more I'm realizing that everyone has those moments, days, thought pa
Jul 15, 2009 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
To start with, I admire Norah Vincent's willingness to throw herself completely into her research. Following on her year of living as a man, she spends several weeks at three different mental institutions. No denying the fact that she is willing to sacrifice for her work!

Her descriptions of being housed in the giant metropolitan hospital are harrowing, as are the pictures she draws of her fellow mental patients. She is an apt observer and captures the telling detail (a list of pseudonyms a patie
Feb 11, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is book 2 in the best of contemporary immersion journalism. Vincent's first book was "Self-Made Man", in which she passed as as male for a whole year, through experiences of work, sports, dating, etc. Eye-opening, to say the least. This time around she gave herself the task of infiltrating America's mental health institutions. There is no love lost here for the people who run these systems. So perhaps all of our various and sundry mental health workers SHOULD read this book. She was actuall ...more
Petra Eggs
Yet another book that I added to my shelves and read and rated that has disappeared. I can't remember if I reviewed it or not. Edit This evening I found another book this is missing, Blood, Bones, and Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef. It's mystifying and worrying.

I used to export my books regularly but always let the file overwrite the old one. Not any more. Since last June when I started to notice books and reviews going missing I've been keeping them all.

The only time in
This starts with a great premise - after having been admitted to a pscyhiatric ward for depression, the author decides to research three other facilities while "in cognito." One is a public facility in apparently NYC, another a private faciltiy somewhere in Midwest USA and last an alternative treatment facility that is also privately funded.
Where the book loses some of its punch is when the author decides to go off her prescribed Prozac and becomes truly depressed herself. Thus instead of revea
Apr 27, 2009 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
My friend Nancy's mom drummed into us that we should NEVER say that we hate anyone, so I'll just say (through clenched teeth) that I found this book insulting and pretentious, and that I disliked this author very, very, very, very much.
John Hood
Jan 17, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

Bound Miami SunPost Jan. 1, 2009

Crazy Lady

Norah Vincent Hits the Loony Bins

By John Hood

When former Los Angeles Times columnist Norah Vincent decided to live life as a man for a while, she probably had no idea the experience would produce a bona fide bestseller (Self-Made Man), or that the living would literally drive her nuts. But 18 months later, after a total immersion that included joining an all-male bowling team, hitting the strip clubs and dating oth
Jul 12, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It can be hurtful to read such an honest account of a consumer's view of one's profession. In her book, Vincent provides a critique of the mental health profession (specifically in an in-patient setting) from the point of view of a client. At first, I, as a mental health professional, felt that the critique was unfair. The quality of care provided is poor at many state in-patient programs but that is primarily due to lack of funding, not lack of caring, and that much of the funding comes from ph ...more
Sep 10, 2009 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: memoirs, medical
The author calls herself an immersive journalist, and the idea for this book came to her during her treatment for a nervous breakdown at the end of the research for her last book. She would voluntarily check into several different residential mental health facilities, expose their differences and try to make the correlation with their success rates.

From the start it is clear that the author is already against psychiatric meds, and in the first facility, a public one primarily treating patients
Mar 26, 2009 marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: stalled
[update 9/14/09:]

i just can't bring myself to get further into this book. i keep checking it out, with every intention of reading it, but the whole thing strikes way too close to home. also, it makes me sad, because there are some truly great inpatient facilities for people who need help. of course, money and insurance determine who gets to go where, along with the education required to seek those places out.

i think it just reminds me too much of how close we sometimes all are to being in a loc
Mar 30, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I like Norah Vincent, but I bet her next book will be "How I Committed Suicide." Because she does stuff that one wouldn't normally do, and it usually ends up coming precariously close to destroying her. In her last book she dresses up like a man and lives in society as that (dating, working, etc), and in this book she commits (committs?) herself to various mental institutions, to see if money/class matter in the quality of care you get. And, it does.

What I like about the author is that she is ve
Part of the reason the book gets such a low rating is that I did so much work in mental health during my undergrad. Norah is deceitful and that makes me upset. I don't like to be tricked. While I do think that the workers in some of the hospitals were just lazy, I feel like her book is more a reflection on how our mental health system is underfunded, unappreciated, and misunderstood. This book was written to 'shock and awe', and it meets that goal.

This book breaks my heart and makes me uncomfort
Jan 07, 2009 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: only Norah Vincent because this is your private boring ass diary.
"We are pack animals and heliotropes all, bending toward the light, the open, the air, dependent on it, even as we bemoan the constant flux and injury to which free will and society subjects us." page 196

If the above passage appeals to you, then by all means read this book. It's your life to waste. I almost put it down but I foolishly thought something exciting might happen at the end or at her third facility. Sorry - I should have said "bin" as she repeatedly refers to all of the hospitals and
I read this book thinking it sounded interesting because immersion journalism usually is, and even if it wasn't completely that, books about "crazy people" are right up my alley.

Wrong on both counts. I finished it because it's a short read. There were several things about this book that bothered me.

First of all, there are the constant diatribes against psychotropic medication. They would have been perfectly valid if she had included ANY evidence whatsoever to back up her claims - a reference to
Meagan Houle
Norah is an immersion journalist--that is, she commentates according to her personal experience within a system. In this case, triggered by a very real depressive breakdown, she commits herself to a public mental hospital and begins taking notes from the inside out. One must ask whether it is ethical to do such a thing, but let's leave those concerns at the door. They're really not the point.
The good: Norah is brave, and far more focused than I could ever be. Not many people would pull such a s
Melise Gerber
It is a really interesting concept for a book, and definitely an interesting view into the experience of inpatient treatment for mental illness. Her writing style is clear and sharp, and it was a quick and enjoyable read. I also appreciated how respectfully she wrote about all of the people that she met in each of these places.

The reason that I give this book only two stars is that I found her tone at the end of the book lapsed into a sort of disdain for her fellow sufferers, and a sort of disgu
Oct 24, 2008 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
In Norah Vincent’s last book she describes disguising herself and living as a man in every way imaginable for six months. She concludes that book by committing herself to a mental institution. Tough to top? Not for Vincent who turned that experience into the idea for this memoir. She would commit herself into three mental health facilities, and dish out all the dirty details of mental health facilities from the patient perspective.

She easily gets herself committed into her first public health
Sep 17, 2015 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Oh man, finishing this was a bitch. I wish I can give this book -5 stars if I could. Awful. Very awful. I hate this book and I've never hated a book before in my life.
This book is basically a huge fuck you for anyone working in the mental health profession. Even though, I am not one YET. I was extremely offended by everything the author had to say. I have interned in a psychiatric hospital for two months and let me just say, the system is not perfect, but whatever she says about how MHP do not
Rorie Kelly
I think this book was extremely worth reading as a starter expose into the mental health field in general and, in particular, the pharmaceutical industry and the way it has sort of commandeered the field over the last several decades. It's NOT a dry non-fiction book (Not That There's Anything Wrong With That) but is a narrative chronicling the author's experiences in several vastly different mental health facilities, and with psychiatrists and therapists over the years. The author openly discuss ...more
Jan 31, 2009 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
NON-FICTION. Ballzy immersion journalist tells her tale of how easy it is to check yourself into a 'Loony Bin' in this country. And she asks the question: "Who wouldn't BECOME crazy once in a place like that?" I found it to be a brow-raising account of our country's mental system. Not all of her experiences were negative, and that is slightly encouraging.
I gave it 3 stars because after a while, I got a little tired of the author's egoic love for hearing herself explain things. I'm being nice.
At first, this book isn't as richly detailed as Self-Made Man. That's actually appropriate as we start out with Norah checking herself into a public mental ward that is pretty blank except where it's squalid.

Norah Vincent's storytelling gets richer in detail and depth as it goes on. Her observations direct and unflinching. For example: when relating the story of a "too good for this ward" middle-class newcomer, Norah acknowledges her own snobbery regarding other patients.

This bright light turned
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Vincent was a senior fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies from its 2001 inception to 2003. She has also had columns at, The Advocate, the Los Angeles Times, and the Village Voice. Her essays, columns and reviews have also appeared in The New Republic, The New York Times, The New York Post, The Washington Post and many more regional newspapers around the country.

More about Norah Vincent...

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“I'd been at the mercy of a prick on a power trip, the kind of buttoned-up bantam rooster who gets off on control and then, when you resist him, tells you that you've got issues with control.” 11 likes
“Normal life is nuts. It's a downhill deterioration to death no matter how you spice it along the way, and there's nothing you can do about it. Now, a sane person, when faced when that, would just plunk his ass down at the starting line, or wherever along the way this realization finally came to him, and say, "Are you kidding? I quit. I'll slide the rest of the way or sit here and smoke." It takes a true lunatic, or someone functioning with the critical apparatus of a worker bee, to keep scrabbling up that hill when he knows his destiny is dust. But that us what is required. Go on.” 10 likes
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