Help and comfort from experienced families--with some well-placed criticism of the mental health care system. Vine, who teaches the history of the family and the history of health care, also writes from the vantage point of one responsible for a cousin with chronic mental illness: she knows the feeling of helplessness and she has no illusions. Using her own story and those of 18 other families in absorbing detail, she moves chronologically through the development of such an illness--from the time when families first begin to wonder if something is wrong beyond the usual adolescent problems or an eccentric personality. For many, the initial contact with the system is in an emergency room, a visit precipitated by an unexpected episode of bizarre behavior. They then confront ""the dilemma of diagnosis""--often a hit-or-miss process further complicated by the inability or reluctance of mental health professionals to explain and interpret labels. For the uncomprehending family, the result is ""a sense of shame."" Next they must choose a program (the experiences of Vine's families illustrate the options); they may have to settle the patient permanently in one or another facility. Thorough, insightful, and involving.