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."" It is necessary next to choose a program (the experiences of Vine's families illustrate the options); it may later be necessary to get used to the idea of a long-term illness (and to permanently settle the patient in one or another facility). In the final section, ""The Chronic Cycle,"" Vine describes--through the by-now-familiar cases--children's, brothers' and sisters', parents', and spouses' reactions and responsibilities. She promotes support groups both for the comfort they provide on an individual basis and for their potential in pressing for mental health reforms. Though thorough and orderly overall, the book is fluid, insightful, and involving--more an experience than a treatise.