This is a collection of descriptions of mental illness and other descriptions of mental disorders written by people who have them. There are thirteen sections corresponding to the sections of the DSM-IV-TR. Each section has between three and nine entries from different first person accounts. Each extract is several pages, with the longest being about 15. Each section has a short introduction.
The idea of a first person perspective on mental illness is very important. It helps people understand the experience and this makes for a more complete grasp of the mental illness and the person who has it. Very often mentally ill people are represented as completely bizarre or incomprehensible, and a first person narrative is a good antidote to that prejudice. I often find with students when discussing mental illness they have very simple-minded categories and with a lot of misconceptions, and the list of behavioral symptoms given by diagnostic lists don't help much to enlighten them. A first person account has much greater effect in providing an intuitive understanding of what is going on for the person.
There are dangers, of course. One person's account of mental illness is very particular to that person, and so will not necessarily be typical, and so it carries that danger that readers will overgeneralize from it. It helps to read several memoirs of the same kind of disorder to get a sense of the range of experiences that go along with the disorder.
The editors here have done a great job at finding many different memoirs and choosing selections. The range of works is truly impressive. The sources include recent books, some classic books, and various kinds of websites. Some have gone through trade publishers, and others are self-published. Some were commissioned for this collection. It is quite a mixture and the quality of writing varies quite a bit. This is definitely not a book to read through from start to finish. It is much more suited for dipping into as appropriate. I found that many of the pieces were hard to get into because either the writing didn't read very smoothly, or else the extracts were taken out of a larger work and it was difficult to follow what was going on. Sometimes the wide variety of sources make the book feel like a jumble of different approaches without much unity. So the best way to approach the book is to find specific pieces that are meaningful and helpful to the reader and pass them on to others.
© 2015 Christian Perring
Christian Perring, Professor of Philosophy, Dowling College, New York