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

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A riveting social and medical history of madness in America, from the seventeenth century to today.

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 just old ...

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Scranton, Pennsylvania, U.S.A. 2002 Hardcover New 0738203858. 304 pages--DESCRIPTION: A riveting social and medical history of madness in America, from the 17th century to ... today. In Mad in America, medical journalist Robert Whitaker reveals an astounding truth: Schizophrenics in the United States fare worse than those in poor countries, and quite possibly worse than asylum patients did in the early nineteenth century. Indeed, Whitaker argues, modern treatments for the severely mentally ill are just old medicine in new bottles and we as a society are deluded about their efficacy. Tracing over three centuries of "cures" for madness, Whitaker shows how medical therapies-from "spinning" or "chilling" patients in colonial times to more modern methods of electroshock, lobotomy, and drugs-have been used to silence patients and dull their minds, deepening their suffering and impairing their hope of recovery. Based on exhaustive research culled from old patient medical records, historical accounts, and government d Read more Show Less

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

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Overview

A riveting social and medical history of madness in America, from the seventeenth century to today.

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 just old medicine in new bottles, and that we as a society are deeply deluded about their efficacy. Tracing over three centuries of "cures" for madness, Whitaker shows how medical therapies have been used to silence patients and dull their minds. He tells of the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century practices of "spinning" the insane, extracting their teeth, ovaries, and intestines, and submerging patients in freezing water. The "cures" in the 1920s and 1930s were no less barbaric as eugenic attitudes toward the mentally ill led to brain-damaging lobotomies and electroshock therapy. Perhaps Whitaker's most damning revelation, however, is his report of how drug companies in the 1980s and 1990s skewed their studies in an effort to prove the effectiveness of their products. Based on exhaustive research culled from old patient medical records, historical accounts, numerous interviews, and hundreds of government documents, Mad in America raises important questions about our obligations to the mad, what it means to be "insane," and what we value most about the human mind.

Author Biography: Robert Whitaker's articles on the mentally ill and the drug industry have won several awards, including the George Polk Award for Medical Writing and the National Association of Science Writers' award for best magazine article. A series he co-wrote for the Boston Globe was named a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in 1998. He lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

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Editorial Reviews

American Scientist
Whitaker does not employ the exaggerated prose of the antipsychiatry movement...Serious and well-documented.
Baltimore Sun
The book's lessons about the medical dangers of greed, ego and sham are universal and couldn't be more timely.
Mother Jones
Passionate, compellingly researched polemic, as fascinating as it is ultimately horrifying.
South Florida Sun-Sentinel
People should read this excellent book and learn which questions to ask—before filling that "miracle" prescription.
Seattle Times
[Whitaker] does an intelligent and bold job.
Philadelphia Inquirer
[Mad in America] is mandatory reading and raises valid issues.
New Scientist
A humdinger of a book...an important book that every psychiatrist should be compelled to read.
In These Times
The most important bit of mental health muckraking since Deutsch's The Shame of the States was published in 1948.
Publishers Weekly
Tooth removal. Bloodletting. Spinning. Ice-water baths. Electroshock therapy. These are only a few of the horrifying treatments for mental illness readers encounter in this accessible history of Western attitudes toward insanity. Whitaker, a medical writer and Pulitzer Prize finalist, argues that mental asylums in the U.S. have been run largely as "places of confinement facilities that served to segregate the misfits from society rather than as hospitals that provided medical care." His evidence is at times frightening, especially when he compares U.S. physicians' treatments of the mentally ill to medical experiments and sterilizations in Nazi Germany. Eugenicist attitudes, Whitaker argues, profoundly shaped American medicine in the first half of the 20th century, resulting in forced sterilization and other cruel treatments. Between 1907 and 1927, roughly 8,000 eugenic sterilizations were performed, while 10,000 mentally ill Americans were lobotomized in the years 1950 and 1951 alone. As late as 1933, there were no states in which insane people could legally get married. Though it covers some of the same territory as Sander Gilman's Seeing the Insane and Elaine Showalter's The Female Malady, Whitaker's richer, more detailed book will appeal to those interested in medical history, as well as anyone fascinated by Western culture's obsessive need to define and subdue the mentally ill. Agent, Kevin Lang. (Feb.) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
From The Critics
Investigative journalist Whitaker tells the story of the treatment of schizophrenia in the United States from 1900 up until the present day. While many would recognize his tales of forced lobotomies, electroshock therapies, and other past "treatments" to be shameful reminders of an ignorant past, Whitaker saves his greatest outrage for the practices of the present. Noting the disturbing facts that outcomes for schizophrenics are worse today than they were 25 years ago and that outcomes are worse in the industrialized nations than they are in the developing world, he argues that the current regime of anti-psychotics (called "atypicals") is not based on good science and has been pushed by companies more concerned with raking in profits than with concern for patients. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
Kirkus Reviews
An absorbing, sometimes harrowing history of the medical treatment of the mentally ill in the US, from its roots in England-think Bedlam-to the present, and a scorching indictment of the status quo.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780738203850
  • Publisher: Basic Books
  • Publication date: 1/3/2002
  • Pages: 352
  • Product dimensions: 6.32 (w) x 9.20 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author


Robert Whitaker‘s articles on the mentally ill and the drug industry have won several awards, including the George Polk Award for medical writing and the National Association of Science Writers’ Award for best magazine article. He is also the author of The Mapmaker’s Wife and The Lap of the Gods. He lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
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Table of Contents

Preface to the Revised Edition xiii

Acknowledgments xvii

Part 1 The Original Bedlam (1750-1900)

1 Bedlam in Medicine 3

2 The Healing Hand of Kindness 19

Part 2 The Darkest Era (1900-1950)

3 Unfit to Breed 41

4 Too Much Intelligence 73

5 Brain Damage as Miracle Therapy 107

Part 3 Back to Bedlam (1950-1990s)

6 Modern-Day Alchemy 141

7 The Patients' Reality 161

8 The Story We Told Ourselves 195

9 Shame of a Nation 211

10 The Nuremberg Code Doesn't Apply Here 233

Part 4 Mad Medicine Today (1990s-Present)

11 Not So Atypical 253

Epilogue 287

Afterword to the Revised Edition 293

Notes 305

Index 337

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 16 )
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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 24, 2002

    ¿Mad in America¿ is offensive

    What is Robert Whitaker¿s problem with psychiatrists and researchers who spend their careers looking for better ways to treat diseases like schizophrenia? ¿Mad in America¿ reads like a rant against these groups. I had expected this prize-winning investigative reporter to write a reasonably objective journalistic study of the treatment of the mentally ill. For example, the author writes about a corrupt researcher who defrauded his own university by pocketing money from clinical research trials. He devotes quite a bit of time to the subject to lead readers to think the entire research system in this country is inherently corrupt. Without better evidence than that, I think the author is just over-reaching. The way the author writes about medications (he argues that they don¿t work and can make symptoms even worse) it¿s clear that he wants to smear the whole idea that antipsychotic drugs can help schizophrenics. Serious side effects of these drugs are rare, but you¿d think they were common if you believed Mr. Whitaker¿s unscientific presentation of the subject. In Mr. Whitaker¿s world, psychiatrists, researchers, drug companies, and advocacy groups for the mentally ill are in cahoots, conspiring to make money off the plight of schizophrenics. He is so far from the truth that it would be laughable if it weren¿t so offensive. I hope the author gets back to doing real journalism soon.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 4, 2002

    Zero rating!

    Reading Robert Whitaker's 'Mad in America' is like walking through the world of Alice in Wonderland. Mr. Whitaker's conclusions are bizarre distortions of reality and the exact opposite of the truth. The serious reader who wants to learn more about treatment options for schizophrenics won't find this polemical book helpful. The first half of 'Mad in America' is an over-wrought retelling of an old story, the bizarre - and by today's standards cruel - treatment of the mentally ill down the ages. His history adds nothing new to our understanding of those times. Instead, these disturbing tales set the stage for the author's indictment of modern-day drug treatments for schizophrenia. By the time the average reader gets to the chapters that cover the mid-20th century and on, he or she is emotionally primed to believe the worst of psychiatry, which seems to be the ultimate aim of this manipulative book. The author writes that drug treatments for schizophrenia do not work and make patients sicker. This simply isn't true. Although there is no cure for schizophrenia, medications can successfully treat its harrowing symptoms. Study after study has shown that most schizophrenics who are treated with anti-psychotic drugs have their lives significantly improved. They experience fewer relapses and hospitalizations, shorter stays in hospital when they do relapse, and fewer delusions and hallucinations. The author says we are no better off in understanding and treating mental illness than we were in the 1700s. Again, this isn't true. Technological and scientific advances are allowing us to understand more about the structure and chemistry of the brain than ever before. The efficacy of drugs has grown over time. The overwhelming majority of people who take anti-psychotic medications suffer only small side effects, like changes in weight. How can the author, who spends the first part of the book describing scaldings and chair-spinning, seriously conclude that we are still in the medical dark ages when it comes to treating the mentally ill? Equally surprising is Mr. Whitaker's conclusion that schizophrenics in India and Nigeria do better than similar people in the United States and other developed countries because doctors in the developing world don't keep their patients on anti-psychotic medications. The author cites World Health Organization (WHO) studies. But those studies did not conclude that drugs had anything to do with people's long term health. In fact, scientists and researchers are still struggling to understand the WHO findings decades after they were first published. I have to conclude that the author fixed onto an idea - that drugs can't help the mentally ill - committed to writing a book about it and refused to let go of the idea, even when the facts got in the way of his original thesis. This book is way off the mark and not to be recommended.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 13, 2008

    A Threat To Believers

    After reading Mad In America and discussing it with friends, I realized how difficult it is to change strongly held beliefs about psychiatry in general and the safety and effectiveness of so-called miracle drugs. Regardless of the SCIENTIFIC EVIDENCE, believers in worthless, dangerous and ineffective psych drugs and other treatments are like religious zealots: no amount of evidence will convince them that they've been conned by snake oil salesmen with impressive credentials and nothing to back up their claims but fraudulent research and heart-felt testimonials. I was once a true believer myself and it was a blow to my ego to admit that I my fundamental beliefs about psychiatric care was founded on marketing hype masquerading as science. Anyone who discounts Whitaker's findings needs to do more reading about the corruption of scientific research 'Dr. Marcia Angell', the FDA and meaningless psychiatric diagnoses.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 11, 2002

    Shining a light on the ugly truth

    This book is bound to upset the status quo and well it should. They have maintained unquestioned power over the the fate of the seriously mentally ill for centuries. The powerful neuroleptics they have foisted upon us in excessive amounts has been immoral and criminal. We need people like Robert Whitaker to take up our cause. Whenever I tried to protest, I was dismissed because the psychiatric system in place must be benevolent. How could I complain? Twenty years ago I said, do not impose a tyranny on the mentally ill you could not bear yourself. I'm still saying that today. And, I am so grateful more voices are rising to speak for those who suffer this inhumane treatment.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 26, 2002

    Exposing the evils of psychiatry

    Whitaker has written an important book in the lineage of Thomas Szasz and R.D. Laing. He demonstrates that institutional psychiatry is pseudo-medicine and built on the myth of mental illness. Psychiatry and its allied fields of clinical psychology and social work are basically social control systems that seem unable to examine their own social origins and roots and just who they really work for. Whitaker demonstrates with logic and superb research that modern biologically oriented psychiatry takes its orders from the government and the large multi-national drug companies and is not only helping ruin the health of the American public and its children but undermining valid science and democracy itself. An important book, well written and deserving of a very large audience.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 30, 2002

    Unmasking biopsychiatric fraud

    'Mad in America' is required reading for anyone who cares about our nation's mental health system. Robert Whitaker is an excellent journalist who has written a well-researched book that is solid, factual, thought-provoking and disturbing. Those who have a vested interest in preserving the status quo will not like this book, because it tells the hard truth: modern psychiatric treatment does more harm than good. Whitaker uncovers many of the fraudulent claims and pseudoscientific theories which the psychiatric profession has peddled to an unsuspecting public. His book will definitely ruffle the feathers of those who profit from today's multibillion-dollar psychopharmaceutical complex. 'Mad in America' is destined to become a classic. Read it if you're prepared to have your assumptions challenged.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 9, 2002

    the best expose yet of psychiatry

    This is by far the best of all the recent exposes of psychiatry. In it, journalist Robert Whitaker masters both the neurophysiological and psychosocial literature, and the complexities of today's so-called mental health care system, and demonstrates why, especially for those supposedly permanently labeled as schizophrenic, psychiatry is the only business in America where the customer is always wrong - and almost always harmed. He also points out how the field in general, and the American Psychiatric Association in particular, have become puppets of the drug companies, whose fraudulence (and profitability, at the expense of patients) grows by the month. This outstanding expose is so important and persuasive that the drug companies can be expected to try to get people, including 'experts,' to smear it..

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