A history and personal exploration of psychotropic drugs and medical procedures for treating mental illness and depression.
In this ambitious undertaking, psychologist Slater (Playing House: Notes of a Reluctant Mother, 2013, etc.) applies vigorous research and intimate reflection to the issues involved with treating mental suffering. Along the way, she asserts thought-provoking yet potentially controversial views and conclusions. The author is open about her long-standing struggles with depression. “My adulthood,” she writes, “has been marked—marred—by periodic depressions preceded by stupid, inane manias.” She is also fairly transparent about her agenda: “I wrote this book in part so I could examine some of the drugs I take, and others I never have. I wrote it in part hoping I would find, in my research, that there really are physical substrates to mental suffering.” Through stories, case studies, and scientific investigation, Slater considers a broad spectrum of treatments used over the last century. The author includes discussions of the early successes of Thorazine and Lithium; early antidepressants, including the phenomenon of Prozac and her lengthy experiences with that medication; some enlightening examples of positive placebo tests and startlingly effective experiments with hallucinogenic drugs; and an overview of the evolution of relevant medical procedures, including “neural implants, the only malleable and reversible form of psychosurgery.” Slater also confronts the shockingly random nature of decision-making processes within the medical and pharmaceutical communities, whether in the development of psychotropic drugs, the prescribed treatments, or the actual diagnosis of the various psychological disorders. Ultimately, the author finds great hope in hallucinogens such as LSD, “magic mushrooms,” and MDMA. “The psychedelics allow patients stuck in self-destructive patterns of thought or behavior to view themselves and their role in the universe in a radically different light,” she writes. “They appear to illuminate death, or the limit of life, and in so doing to underscore its preciousness.”
A highly compelling, only occasionally overstated assessment of the role of psychotropic drugs in the treatment of mental health issues.