BookHeads: Voluntary Madness

June 24, 2015
Dhabitah - Voluntary Madness

BookHead: Dhabitah Zainal | @dhabitahzainal

Voluntary Madness by Norah Vincent

Non-fiction / memoir

While battling with depression, Norah Vincent took on the advice of her psychiatrist and admitted herself into a mental institution – and this was where the idea of writing this book was sparked. Not long after, she decided to admit herself in different facilities for the purpose of exploring and exposing the impact of institutionalizing the mentally ill, the usage of drugs to repress instead of cure and the importance of the relationship between caregivers and patients. In short, it is an eye-opening book that looks into the world of psychiatry, or at least a different side of it – one we hardly see.

Why I like it:
- Memoirs are fun. It allows you to walk in the writer’s shoes and dwell in their experiences.
- Even though it sounds like a heavy topic, it was written in simple sentences BUT with a few big words and extensive vocab here and there (which you can learn from!)
- The writer was in three different mental institutions, so expect some wit and humour! And some bizarre observations and findings along the way.
- It’s also full of wisdom and things everyone can learn from, about themselves, others and human beings in general. No, it’s definitely not only for those with a specific interest in psychiatry and mental health, this book is catered for everyone.
- But to add to the point above, a little mental health awareness wouldn’t harm.
- It touches briefly on the crazily expensive health care system in the United States… You’d be thankful we’re not as burdened as that in terms of health care.

Why I don’t like it:
- There were instances when the author sounded arrogant and know-it-all, even though she has no background in psychiatry or psychology.
- There were also times when it felt like I was reading a diary of a young, whiny girl instead of a memoir by an immersive journalist, though the instances were not plenty.

Regardless, I still say the good outweighs the bad for this book. And here’s my favourite quote:
We tend to think of happiness (and by happiness I also mean health or overall well-being) as a gift, and sometimes it is, a pure gratuity. But most of the time it comes about because you’ve done the work, prepared the ground to allow it in or tended it carefully once it has arrived. You have to practice happiness the way you practice the piano, commit to it the way you commit to going to the gym.

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