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

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"The Insanity Offense describes in detail one of the great social disasters in recent American history. Over the past five decades, hundreds of thousands of patients with severe psychiatric disorders have been discharged from public mental hospitals. At the same time, changes in state commitment laws have made it impossible to treat nearly half of the discharged patients after they have left the hospital." Here E. Fuller Torrey, the author of definitive guides to schizophrenia and manic depression, chronicles a disastrous swing in the balance of civil rights that has resulted in numerous violent episodes and left a vulnerable population of mentally ill people homeless and victimized. Interweaving in-depth accounts of three landmark cases in California, Wisconsin, and North Carolina with a history of legislation and changes in the mental health care system, Torrey gives shape to the magnitude of our failure.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

The ill effects of not providing proper treatment for people with serious mental disorders has become all too apparent in recent years, writes research psychiatrist and treatment advocate Torrey (Surviving Manic-Depression). Released en masse from institutions beginning in the 1960s, the most severely ill are "most likely to become homeless, incarcerated, victimized, and/or violent." Torrey details how civil liberties suits have prevented such people from being involuntarily institutionalized, leaving them a danger both to themselves and to others. Confronting these issues head on, Torrey offers both the clinical and the anecdotal, citing several tragic examples: in the case of Cho Seung-Hui, the 2007 Virginia Tech killer, he faults both the university and stringent state laws regarding involuntary commitment for neglecting to treat a clearly very ill young man. This reform-minded book calls for a change in laws affecting how mentally ill people are treated, keeping close track of those with a history of violent behavior and creating a more comprehensive treatment approach. Chilling and well documented, this text has many no-nonsense solutions to protect the mentally ill themselves as well as society as a whole. (July)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Library Journal

According to research psychiatrist Torrey (Surviving Manic Depression), one percent of America's schizophrenic and other seriously mentally ill people is dangerous, a subgroup that numbers 40,000 in the United States. Here, he offers three explanations for this nationwide threat: deinstitutionalization, which allowed for the emptying of state hospitals without providing adequate community mental-health services, opposition to enforced treatment by antipsychiatry conservatives and liberal defenders of civil rights, and the failure of mental health advocates and professionals to address or even study the problem for fear of stigmatizing all psychiatric patients. Today, he writes, ten percent of this country's jail inmates and one-third of its homeless are seriously mentally ill; of the latter group, 25 percent are victims of violent crime annually. Torrey believes that court-enforced treatment, including involuntary commitment and monitored medication, would allow many to function adequately and make us all safer. His critical analysis, which effectively mixes dramatic narratives and chilling statistics, calls for changing policies that have proved inhumane, costly, and dangerous. An important, powerful, and thoroughly researched book; essential for most libraries.
—E. James Lieberman

David Brooks - New York Times
“Torrey's book describes a nation that has been unable to come up with a humane mental health policy—one that protects the ill from their own demons and society from their rare but deadly outbursts.”
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780393066586
  • Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 6/28/2008
  • Pages: 288
  • Product dimensions: 9.46 (w) x 6.32 (h) x 0.94 (d)

Meet the Author

E. Fuller Torrey is a research psychiatrist specializing in schizophrenia and manic-depressive illness. He is thefounder of the Treatment Advocacy Center and theexecutive director for laboratory research at the Stanley Medical Research Institute. He lives in Bethesda, Maryland.

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Table of Contents

1 Introduction: The Origins of a Disaster 1

2 Death by the Roadside 9

3 Thirteen Murders to Prevent an Earthquake 24

4 "The Odds Are Still in Society's Favor" 41

5 The Killing of Three Devils 69

6 The Sad Legacy of Ms. Lessard 82

7 God Does Not Take Medication 111

8 The Consequences of Unconstrained Civil Liberties: Homeless, Incarcerated, and Victimized 123

9 The Consequences of Unconstrained Civil Liberties: Violent and Homicidal 140

10 An Imperative for Change 161

11 Fixing the System 177

12 Coda: Death by the Roadside 197

App. A U.S. Studies of the Prevalence of Serious Violence by Psychiatric Patients Living in the Community 209

App. B Studies from Other Countries of Homicides Committed by Individuals with Psychotic Disorders 213

Notes 219

Index 251

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Customer Reviews

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