Kirkus Star


How the Federal Government Destroyed the Mental Illness Treatment System
Email this review


Psychiatrist Torrey (The Insanity Offense: How America's Failure to Treat the Seriously Mentally Ill Endangers Its Citizens, 2008, etc.) returns to the battleground of reform with another book about the inability of government agencies and private institutions to care well for the severely mentally ill.

The author names individuals who, in his opinion, are responsible for the disaster of mental health care across the United States. Here, Torrey focuses more on the historical reasons for the sad situation, with special emphasis on the family of President John F. Kennedy. Since Kennedy's sister Rosemary was developmentally disabled and increasingly unstable as she aged, the new president had a high awareness of hidden mental illness problems. But his push for federal mental illness legislation, however well-intended, dismantled the state-based mental hospital system without sensible alternatives in place. As a result, Torrey explains, what became known as "deinstitutionalization" placed tens of thousands of severely mentally ill patients in communities entirely unprepared to care for them. Torrey excoriates the leadership at the National Institute for Mental Health for their inability to anticipate the disaster and subsequent failure to admit their mistakes and take corrective action. After devoting about two-thirds of the text to the historical record, Torrey offers a chapter titled "Dimensions of the Present Disaster, 2000-2013,” in which he lucidly explains how community jails and state prisons have become the new centers for warehousing severely mentally ill individuals. The final chapter is filled with sensible recommendations that could be funded by current misguided expenditures that Torrey estimates at about $140 billion annually. The author makes clear that the solutions will require not only vast funding, but also a long-term commitment by trained caregivers, plus family members who insist that their mentally ill relatives be committed to institutions when dangerous to themselves and innocent bystanders.

An important book by a refreshingly candid author who shares his vast knowledge in the interests of the needy.

Pub Date: Aug. 22nd, 2013
ISBN: 978-0-19-998871-6
Page count: 240pp
Publisher: Oxford Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1st, 2013


NonfictionOUT OF THE SHADOWS by E. Fuller Torrey
by E. Fuller Torrey
NonfictionFREUDIAN FRAUD by E. Fuller Torrey
by E. Fuller Torrey


NonfictionBEHIND THE GATES OF GOMORRAH by Stephen Seager
by Stephen Seager
NonfictionINFECTIOUS MADNESS by Harriet A. Washington
by Harriet A. Washington
NonfictionHEAD CASE by Cole Cohen
by Cole Cohen
NonfictionWHAT IS MENTAL ILLNESS? by Richard J. McNally
by Richard J. McNally