Mad Science: Psychiatric Coercion, Diagnosis, and Drugs (by Drs. Stuart Kirk, Tomi Gomory, and David Cohen) is a wonderful book that will be of great interest to readers of Mad in America. It is quite readable for a scholarly work, and even those without mental health experience will be able to follow it. This book is deeply thoughtful and nuanced. When the authors present a point to which a counterpoint or counterargument comes to mind (e.g., “But what about X?”), inevitably, within a few words or sentences, such points are addressed. These scholars know the data, and present it accurately. When there’s a lack of good data, the authors report this. When they speculate based on imperfect data, they do so transparently. This scholarly rigor makes it a very persuasive, enjoyable read, perhaps reminiscent of Boyle’s classic book, “Schizophrenia: A Scientific Delusion?“
Over the past decade, there have been dozens of “critical mental health” books published. As a mental health researcher, I read most of these. Some of these books have been ground-breaking (e.g., Blaming the Brain, Mad in America, Anatomy of an Epidemic, Pharmageddon), but many are fairly derivative of previous scholarship. The field is now almost crowded with such work.
Importantly, Mad Science is not ‘just another critical mental health book’ – the authors are not simply telling the same-old-story. Instead, it is innovative, creative, and thought-provoking. All of us hold fundamental assumptions about mental health diagnosis, coercion, and drugs. Mad Science guides the reader through identifying these assumptions, and then rigorously evaluates the underlying scientific evidence. The book covers: The definition of ‘mental illness’, biological psychiatry, psychiatric coercion, Assertive Community Treatment, Evidence-Based Medicine, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (including DSM-5), psychiatric medications, and much more. I am quite familiar with these topics, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that, again and again, I was seeing things in a new way. I immediately began integrating material from this book into my graduate-level DSM class.
One common critique of critical mental health books is that they put the problems with our mental health system on display without providing any answers. On this issue, this book also shines. The last chapter of Mad Science contains a great description of how we could move the field of mental health forward in a positive direction through problem-solving.
I gave MSW students in my DSM class the option of choosing this book for their book review assignment, and several students read the book. They universally enjoyed Mad Science and reported that they learned a great deal. A typical comment: “This book blew my mind.” I have also encouraged colleagues to read this book, and one just emailed me a comment about it: “It’s seriously exquisite. Every word is so careful. I am very inspired by their rigor…”.
The audience for this book includes clients, family members of those diagnosed with mental health problems, researchers, clinicians, students, policymakers, administrators – or anyone interested in mental health. The rigorous application of critical thinking to the mental health field would also make it a useful book for any class or reading group interested in critical thinking in general.
I highly recommend Mad Science: Psychiatric Coercion, Diagnosis, and Drugs.